Wild­fire threat to US atomic bomb lab

Shanghai Daily - - WORLD -

A WILD­FIRE burn­ing near the desert birth­place of the atomic bomb ad­vanced on the Los Alamos lab­o­ra­tory and thou­sands of out­door drums of plu­to­nium- con­tam­i­nated waste on Tues­day as au­thor­i­ties stepped up ef­forts to pro­tect the site from flames and mon­i­tor the air for ra­di­a­tion.

Of­fi­cials at the United States’ premier nu­clear weapons lab gave as­sur­ances that dan­ger­ous ma­te­ri­als were safely stored and ca­pa­ble of with­stand­ing flames from the 240- square- kilo­me­ter fire, which was as close as 15 me­ters from the grounds.

A small patch of land on the lab­o­ra­tory grounds caught fire on Mon­day be­fore fire­fight­ers quickly put it out. Teams were on high alert to pounce on any new blazes and spent the day re­mov­ing brush and low- hang­ing tree branches from the lab’s perime­ter.

“We are throw­ing ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing at this that we got,” Demo­cratic Sen­a­tor Tom Udall of New Mex­ico said in Los Alamos.

The fire has forced the evac­u­a­tion of the en­tire city of Los Alamos, pop­u­la­tion 11,000, cast gi­ant plumes of smoke over the re­gion and raised fears among nu­clear watch­dogs that it will reach as many as 30,000 drums of plu­to­ni­um­con­tam­i­nated waste.

“The con­cern is that these drums will get so hot that they’ll burst. That would put this toxic ma­te­rial into the plume. It’s a con­cern for every­body,” said Joni Arends, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Con­cerned Cit­i­zens for Nu­clear Safety, an anti-nu­clear group.

Arends’ group also wor­ried that the fire could stir up nu­clear- con­tam­i­nated soil on lab prop­erty where ex­per­i­ments were con­ducted. Over the years, bur­row­ing an­i­mals have brought that con­tam­i­na­tion to the sur­face, she said.

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