UPDATE: Fire Mitigation Efforts Ongoing at Laboratory
June 30, 5:00 a.m.—Though no fires are burning
on Los Alamos National Laboratory property, numerous personnel are
actively engaged in fire mitigation projects throughout the Laboratory’s
36 square miles.
Crews are in the process of thinning fuels and improving existing fire
roads at five locations on laboratory property. One project is
specifically dedicated to reducing potential fuel sources in the
vicinity of Area G, the Laboratory’s Radioactive Waste Storage and
Disposal Facility. As part of that project, crews are using
industrial-sized mowers and large-vegetation mulching machines known as
“masticators” to reduce grasses, shrubs and small trees along Pajarito
Road. Crews are also conditioning fire roads in the vicinity and
spraying water to moisten potential ignition sources.
Crews are engaged in similar activities along West Jemez Road, at an
access area close to N.M. 4 just southwest of the community of White
Rock, along a power line corridor located between the Los Alamos Neutron
Science Center and the Laboratory’s Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment
Facility, and around the Laboratory’s explosive materials firing site
northwest of the entrance to Bandelier National Monument.
No wild fires are currently burning on Lab property. Laboratory officials say their nuclear and hazardous materials, including its waste and
environmental remediation sites, are safe, accounted for, and protected.
LANL announced Wednesday that it would remain closed
through Friday, July 1.
UPDATE: Los Alamos Fire Chief: Preventive Burns Were Successful
June 29, 2011, 8:05pm—Los Alamos County Fire Chief
Doug Tucker said Wednesday that preventive burns just outside the
western boundary of Los Alamos National Laboratory have been successful.
“In my professional opinion, there is a less than 10% chance of spot
fires on Lab property this evening, diminishing tomorrow,” Tucker said
during a briefing to emergency managers.
Firefighters began setting “back burns” on the west side of New Mexico
State Route 501 around mid-morning. Those operations were declared
complete by evening. The burns were intended to remove available fuel
from the Las Conchas Fire, which has consumed more than 60,000 acres on
two sides of the 37-square-mile LANL site but only one acre of the lab
LANL Director Charles McMillan reported that he could feel the heat
of the fire on my face as I watched from the roof of our Emergency
No wild fires are currently burning on Lab property. All of the
Laboratory’s nuclear and hazardous materials, including its waste and
environmental remediation sites, are safe, accounted for, and protected.
A helicopter carrying water flies over the Los Alamos Laboratory as smoke rises from the Las Conchas fire in Los Alamos, N.M., Tuesday, June 28, 2011. A vicious wildfire spread through the mountains above a northern New Mexico town on Tuesday, driving thousands of people from their homes as officials at the government nuclear laboratory tried to dispel concerns about the safety of sensitive materials. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — Residents downwind of a wildfire that is
threatening the nation’s premier nuclear-weapons laboratory are worried
about the potential of a radioactive smoke plume if the flames reach
thousands of barrels of waste stored in above-ground tents.
lab officials and fire managers said they’re confident the flames won’t
reach key buildings or areas where radioactive waste is stored. As a
last resort, foam could be sprayed on the barrels containing items that
might have been contaminated through contact with radioactive materials
to ensure they aren’t damaged by fire, they said.
site’s manager for the National Nuclear Security Administration said he
evaluated the precautions and felt comfortable. The agency oversees the
lab for the Department of Energy.
“I have 170 people who validate their measures,” Kevin Smith said. “They’re in steel drums, on a concrete floor.”
Despite the assurances, some residents remained concerned for the safety of their families and nearby communities.
it gets to this contamination, it’s over — not just for Los Alamos, but
for Santa Fe and all of us in between,” said Mai Ting, a resident who
lives in the valley below the desert mesas that are home to the Los
Alamos National Laboratory.
Valvarde, a resident of the Santa Clara Pueblo about 10 miles north of
Los Alamos, questioned officials at a briefing Tuesday evening, asking
whether they had evacuation plans for his community. Los Alamos, a town
of 11,000, already sits empty after its residents were evacuated ahead
of the blaze, which started Sunday.
wildfire, which has swelled to nearly 95 square miles, has already
sparked a spot fire at the lab. The fire Monday was quickly contained,
and lab officials said no contamination was released.
Director Charles McMillan said the barrels contain transuranic waste —
gloves, toolboxes, tools — and other items that may have been
contaminated. Top lab officials declined to say how many barrels were on
site or how they are stored. An anti-nuclear group has estimated there
could be up to 30,000 gallon-drums.
Alamos County Fire Chief Doug Tucker, whose department is responsible
for protecting the lab, said the barrels are stacked about three high
inside of tents on lab property.
were just across the road from the southern edge of the famed lab,
where scientists developed the first atomic bomb during World War II.
The facility cut natural gas to some areas as a precaution. The lab will
be closed through at least Thursday.
streets of Los Alamos were empty Tuesday, with the exception of
emergency vehicles and National Guard Humvees. Homeowners who had left
were prepared: propane bottles were placed at the front of driveways and
cars were left in the middle of parking lots, away from anything
wildfire has destroyed 30 structures south and west of Los Alamos, for
many stirring memories of a blaze in May 2000 that destroyed hundreds of
homes and buildings in town.
winds have helped firefighters, who were busy trying to keep the fire
from moving off Pajarito Mountain to the west of Los Alamos and into two
narrow canyons that descend into the town and the lab.
is just so dry and ready to burn,” Tucker said. “We need some rain.
Snow would be nice.” He added that even containment lines had dangerous
smoldering stumps and burning roots that could easily ignite fires.
orange glow on the mountain could be seen from Los Alamos’ deserted
streets. Some residents who decided to wait out the fire weren’t
concerned, including Mark Smith, a chemical engineer who works at the
“The risk of exposure is so small. I wouldn’t sit here and inhale plutonium. I may be crazy, but I’m not dumb,” he said.
lab, which employs about 15,000 people, covers more than 36 square
miles and includes about 2,000 buildings at nearly four dozen sites.
They include research facilities, as well as waste disposal sites.
facilities, including the administration building, are in Los Alamos,
while others are miles from the town. Most of the buildings from the
Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb in the 1940s were
built on what is now the town and are long gone. The spot fire Monday
scorched a section known as Tech Area 49, which was used in the early
1960s for a series of underground tests with high explosives and
spokesman Kevin Roark said environmental specialists were monitoring
air quality, but the main concern was smoke. Lab personnel and the state
environment department were monitoring the air for radioactivity and
particulates. The state was also working to get additional ground-based
monitors and an airborne monitor.
anti-nuclear watchdog group Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety said
the fire appeared to be about 3.5 miles from a dumpsite where as many as
30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste were stored in
fabric tents above ground.
spokeswoman Lisa Rosendorf said a section known as Area G holds drums
of cleanup from Cold War-era waste that the lab sends away for storage
in weekly shipments.
reported from Albuquerque, N.M. Associated Press writers Barry Massey
in Santa Fe and Mark Carlson in Phoenix contributed to this report.
SOURCE: The Associated Press