Managers of the Los Alamos National Laboratory have sought to quell fears that the out-of-control Las Conchas wildfire burning very close to the lab could put radioactive material at risk. The lab is currently closed due to the fire in the area.
This news comes at the same time as the news that a nuclear plant in Nebraska is surrounded by flood waters from the Missouri River, and a berm protecting the plant collapsed early on Sunday.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory apparently houses some low-level radioactive waste above ground in metal barrels in a section of the large 23,000 acre facility. Although the fire is near, the Lab’s director has said “I just don’t see any scenario where the public is going to be impacted”. The lab has the capability to cover the barrels with fire-retardent if fire ever managed to reach the storage area.
A small fire was reported on Monday on lab property but was put out, and no property was reported to be damaged. Officials from the lab have said that the low-level waste, including contaminated clothing and equipment, is a safe distance from the wildfire. It is also in an area that is cleared of trees and vegetation.
The Los Alamos Laboratory was initiated during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to develop a nuclear weapon, and apparently is still one of the top nuclear weapons making sites in the U.S.
The anti-nuclear campaign group Nuclear Watch New Mexico has said that Los Alamos is the only place in the U.S. that produces plutonium pits that go into the core of nuclear weapons.
National Guard troops numbering in the hundreds have been deployed to back up law enforcement in the area, and the lab will be closed until the threat of fire has receded.
The fire itself, burning in the Santa Fe National forest, had grown to 60,000 acres by Tuesday morning. Thousands of residents were reported to be leaving the town of Los Alamos ahead of the approaching wildfire.
Below is a spectacular time-lapse of the Las Conchas Fire burning near Los Alamos, from a position just north of Santa Fe.
Image CC licensed by snowpeak: fire near Los Alamos