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Entries in Los Alamos National Laboratory (4)

Thursday
Jun302011

Los Alamos Fire: First Air Samples Show No Elevated Radiation

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke that's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted fire crews to set their own fires along the perimeter of the lab.  So far, the strategy is working.  The first air samples show lots of smoke, but no signs of elevated radiation.

"Those results show that what we see in this fire is exactly what we see in any fire across New Mexico," said Charles McMillan, the lab's director.

Environmental officials aren't taking any chances.  The Environmental Protection Agency is bringing in dozens of air monitors all around the state, along with a special airplane that takes instant radiation samples.  So far, officials have not been able to find anything amiss.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," McMillan told ABC News.

Some observers are worried not just about the barrels of nuclear waste stored at the lab, but also what's in the canyons that surround the sprawling complex.  Nuclear tests were performed in the canyons dating back to the 1940s.

"The trees have grown up during that time frame and the soil could be contaminated," said Rita Bates of the New Mexico Environment Department.  "If it gets heated and that stuff goes airborne, then we are concerned about that."

The canyons were a dumping ground for radioactive materials decades ago, but are now open to the public and are considered safe.

Still, one graduate student armed with a Geiger counter took to YouTube to show there was no shortage of metal or radioactivity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun292011

EPA Testing for Radiation in New Mexico Wildfire

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke from the blaze that's so big it's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to bring in air monitors, along with a special airplane that checks for radiation levels. So far officials have not been able to find anything.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," Laboratory Director Dr. Charles McMillan told ABC News.

The Los Alamos facility -- the birthplace of the atomic bomb -- was shrouded in secrecy long before it was surrounded by smoke after the Las Conchas fire began Sunday.

"It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste," former top 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.

Reports have indicated that the flames from the 95-square-mile fire have reached as close as 50 feet from the grounds.  With a wildfire this close, lab officials, along with government officials such as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, are trying to reassure the public of the plant's safety.

"I'm confident in saying that they are committed to making it safe," Martinez told ABC News.

After a mass evacuation, the city of Los Alamos remains a ghost town.  Most of its 12,000 residents were evacuated Monday, some leaving their sprinklers on to protect their homes.

Still, according to Police Chief Wayne Torpy, about 150 die-hard residents have stayed behind, unfazed by the danger presented by their nuclear neighbor.

Firefighters have made progress in the past few days, and have said that the risk of the flames reaching radioactive material is slim.  Still, they caution that winds Wednesday could change, as could their level of confidence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun282011

Residents Abandon Los Alamos as Wildfire Bears Down

Medioimages/Photodisc(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- Thousands of residents are leaving the town that hosts America's nuclear weapons lab, Los Alamos, ahead of a wildfire that has shot up towers of smoke, rained down ash, and sparked a fire on the lab's property where scientists once conducted tests on radioactive explosives.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper Monday afternoon after many of the New Mexico town's 12,000 residents were asked to leave. Authorities said that 2,500 people had already left under an earlier voluntary evacuation.

Los Alamos is where the first atomic bomb was built and where today's most dangerous weapons are made. The wildfire, which began Sunday, had destroyed 30 structures south and west of Los Alamos by early Monday.

The fire forced the 36-square-mile Los Alamos National Laboratory to close after the flames came within 50 feet of its perimeter. One small fire, located where a series of underground tests with highly explosive and radioactive material were performed in the 1960s, was safely extinguished.

Officials say the nuclear material inside Los Alamos is secure, and that there is no danger to the public. But one former top security official, Glen Walp, isn't so sure.

"Potential is high for a major calamity if the fire would reach these areas," he said.

He said that nuclear waste is stored 3 miles from where the fire is blazing now.

"It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste," 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."

For people who live in Los Alamos, this fire is a case of deja vu. This same area burned 11 years ago, and some structures at the lab went up in flames.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun272011

Los Alamos Lab Threatened by Wildfire

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- A wildfire is burning out of control just one mile from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation's top national security research facilities where many hazardous and radioactive materials are housed.

Winds appear to be keeping the flames from the critical New Mexico laboratory, but officials fear a change in the winds could be dangerous.

A statement on the Los Alamos National Laboratory's website indicates that "winds generally from the northwest overnight have helped keep the fire from entering Lab property, but forecasts call for a change by mid-day."

Officials said in a statement that all harmful material have been surveyed and properly stowed.

"Overnight, as a precaution, the Lab cut natural gas to technical areas in LANL's remote southwest area. All hazardous and radioactive materials remain accounted for and are appropriately protected, as are key Lab facilities such as its proton accelerator and supercomputing centers," a statement from the lab said.

The lab shut down all operations Monday as firefighting crews battle the raging flames.

"It's been a very long night for the fire crews," said lab director Charles McMillan in a statement.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue a Fire Management Assistance Declaration for the area in order to provide further assistance.

The Las Conchas Fire burst into flames around 1 p.m. on Sunday, according to a report by InciWeb, which provides the Incident Information System and compiles information from government agencies. The report indicates that Sunday's weather conditions included very high temperatures, low humidity and high winds, which all contributed to the inferno. Forecasts Monday call for a change in winds which would jeopardize lab property.

The Lab's Emergency Operations Center remains operational and observation aircrafts have been deployed to monitor the fire's growth and size.

Several nearby areas including Bandelier National Monument, Cochiti Mesa, Las Conchas and campgrounds near the fire were evacuated Sunday. Voluntary evacuations were also issued for White Rock and Los Alamos.

Environmental specialists are stationed in the area and are measuring air quality, but say their main concern is smoke.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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