RICHMOND -- The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus that will rise on Richmond's southern shoreline will be a mecca of scientific research and education, an economic driver in the area and a source of much-needed jobs, lab officials said Thursday night.

And it will also be safe, they assured residents.

"We'll do the same research we've been doing for years at the Berkeley lab without incident," said Jay Keasling, associate lab director for biosciences at the facility. "We have a very strong safety culture."

The gathering in the Richmond Memorial Auditorium, attended by about 100 people, featured a panel of scientists across a range of fields and a question-and-answer session with the audience.

The meeting was the second of several workshops aimed at sharing information about the complex project and drawing community input.

While the first meeting focused on development plans, economic concerns and architectural visions, Thursday's forum was billed as an opportunity to share details about the kind of research that will occur at the Richmond lab.

Speakers said the lab will be a national leader in fields such as biofuels, genetics, cancer research, climate change and energy efficiencies.

Scientists told the public that rumors about nuclear weapons research at the lab were untrue.

"There will be no classified research (at the lab)," said Graham Fleming, vice chancellor for research at UC Berkeley. "There is nothing secret, and we don't have anything to do with making weapons."


Advertisement

Richmond emerged as the top choice for the new lab site after months of competition with other East Bay cities that coveted the prestige and hundreds of millions in investment the lab is expected to bring.

Plans call for a 2 million-square-foot complex at the 120-acre Richmond Field Station, on a site owned by UC Berkeley on the city's southern shoreline.

The facility will house more than 800 scientists along with hundreds of students, researchers and interns.

The proposed campus is among the biggest building projects in the East Bay in decades. Richmond elected leaders have unanimously lauded the project and touted it as a magnet for green energy and other high-tech firms to Richmond, particularly in its scenic, spacious and rapidly growing south shore district.

LBNL officials have laid out a project schedule calling for public meetings and planning until 2014, with construction occurring from 2014-16. Move-in and full operations could begin in 2017.

In the meantime, discussions between industry leaders and the public must continue on a range of complex topics, including connecting transportation between existing infrastructure and the new campus and establishing educational and social links between the lab and Richmond nonprofits and other groups, lab leaders say.

Residents asked the lab officials about jobs. Richmond has struggled with unemployment rates far above the state average for years.

"There will be many good jobs created here," Graham said, noting that the sprawling campus will require staffing for administration, clerical, maintenance and other duties.

Scientists also noted that other lab sites in the East Bay have robust partnerships with nearby schools, providing students access to the lab and exposure to science education programs.

Graham said the lab will be open to the public and local children.

"This is an open campus generally accessible to the community," Graham said.

Examples of the research that will be housed at the Richmond site include developing low-cost malaria drugs, enhanced urban runoff strategies, wetlands restoration, polluted lands remediation and genetics research to fight cancer.

Several residents noted that the site picked for the lab contains arsenic and other carcinogens from industrial and other uses in past decades.

Lab officials agreed, and said more than $18 million had already been plunged into cleanup and work, and more still needed to be done.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.