Wildfire threat to US atomic bomb lab
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.