Fire Closes in on Plutonium at Los Alamos National Laboratory → Washingtons Blog
Fire Closes in on Plutonium at Los Alamos National Laboratory - Washingtons Blog

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fire Closes in on Plutonium at Los Alamos National Laboratory

As I noted Tuesday, raging wildfires are threatening the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As Reuters reported the same day:

The fire ... surrounds the lab complex and adjacent town of Los Alamos on three sides.

Today, Associated Press provides details on the size of the fire:

A wildfire that is threatening the nation’s premier nuclear weapons laboratory ... is poised to become the largest fire in state history.

The fire near Los Alamos has charred nearly 145 square miles, or 92,735 acres.


They’re bracing for winds that could gust up to 40 mph Thursday afternoon.

ABC quotes the lab's former top security official to give some perspective on the danger:

“It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste,” former top [Los Alamos National Lab] security official Glen Walp said. “It’s not contained within a concrete, brick and mortar-type building, but rather in a sort of fabric-type building that a fire could easily consume.

“Potential is high for a major calamity if the fire would reach these areas,” he added.

Yahoo News notes that the fire is getting close to the drums of plutonium:

[ T]he plant is reportedly home to 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste. As of Thursday morning, the flames were reportedly two miles away from this waste. “The concern is that these drums will get so hot that they’ll burst,” says Joni Arends, executive director of the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, as quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle. There is also concern that the fire could stir up nuclear-contaminated soil left over from years of testing, sending the nuclear waste into the plumes of smoke hovering over the area.

ABC reports today:

Along with what’s actually on lab property, there is concern about what’s in the canyons that surround the sprawling complex. Nuclear tests were performed in the canyons dating back to the 1940s; so-called “legacy contaminations.”

“The trees have grown up during that timeframe, and the soil can also be contaminated. If they get heated and that stuff goes air borne, then we are concerned,” Rita Bates of the New Mexico Environment Department said.

As Los Alamos lab expert Peter Stockton told Time:
[We just have to] hope to hell that the wind blows in the right direction.
To add insult to injury, lightning is forecast for the Los Alamos area.


  1. Hope you are safe.

    All stupid things eventually are found out.

    Daisy cutters could be used to form windbreaks, if anyone was awake in the military? The sooner the better?

  2. some local reporting:


    Here is an excerpt from this damning and ultimately terrifying report produced by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability:

    Approximately 18 million cubic feet of radioactive and chemical solid wastes onsite were disposed of since 1943. “All of the radioactive waste and most of the chemical waste have been buried on the mesas of Pajarito Plateau where LANL is located. Radioactive liquid wastes were discharged to the canyons, initially with little treatment.”

    For many years, one method of disposal was “kick-and-roll”. The back of a truck was brought to the edge of a hole and barrels of waste were kicked. Wherever the barrels rolled tow as their final resting place.

    No protection was put in place to ensure contaminants did not spread from the barrel. It is not clear that today’s practices are more protective.

    An estimated 899,000 curies of low-level transuranic wastes were buried at Los Alamos. It is difficult to estimate exactly the quantity of radionuclides buried onsite due to the inaccurate record keeping and alterations in the definitions of low-elevel waste in the intervening years. Disposal continues today in unlined pits and shafts, a practice declared illegal by the New Mexico Attorney General’s office in 2011....

    Tons of plutonium were processed at LANL in the early years of development and again in the 1980s. After the Savannah River Site, LANL contains the second largest volume of plutonium-238 in the US nuclear weapons complex: this type of plutonium has a 90-year half-life, a very high activity and is extremely hazardous....



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