July 2, 2011
Threats of radioactive disaster from what is shaping up to be the largest wildfire in the state’s history are escalating, as heavy winds and plenty of dry brush have fueled flames to within 50 feet of New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), home of the first atomic bomb.
Crews claim there are currently no fires burning on the lab’s 36 square mile property, but the entire town of Los Alamos, population 11,000, has been evacuated, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now on radiation alert in the area.
As of Sunday, the massive wildfire had already burned up nearly 145 square miles of land across New Mexico, or 92,735 acres, which is just a few hundred acres short of the massive Dry Lakes fire that swept Gila National Forest in 2003.
But the current wildfire’s proximity to the nuclear facility is particularly troubling because there are about 30,000 55-gallon drums of radioactive plutonium waste on the site that, according to some reports, are not particularly well-protected.
“The concern is that these drums will get so hot that they’ll burst,” said Joni Arends, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. “That would put this toxic material into the plume. It’s a concern for everybody.”
EPA is now monitoring for radiation the giant smoke plume that has been building and spreading across the area as a result of the fire. Because the nuclear facility itself has conducted countless nuclear experiments, some experts say that nuclear-contaminated soil, in addition to the waste drums, could also be disrupted by the fire, releasing old, but deadly, radioactive waste into the plume.
LANL officials claim that everything is under control, and that the nuclear waste drums are at a low risk of catching fire or exploding from high heat because several canyons allegedly separate them from the current location of the fire. Fire officials have also been burning out dead zone areas in between the fire and the plant in the hopes that doing so will eliminate the brush fuel needed by the fire to spread any closer.
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This article was posted: Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 3:10 am