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New Mexico Wildfire Remains a Threat to Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Los Alamos fireThe uncontrolled 60,000-acre Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico, which began June 26, is raging near Los Alamos National Laboratory, but the lab says that its nuclear materials are protected.

Los Alamos was the birthplace of the atomic bombs that the U.S. developed during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project and dropped on Japan. The lab remains a key nuclear-weaponry research site.

Los Alamos spokesperson Steve Sandoval would not comment on what would happen if the Las Conchas blaze were to reach stored nuclear materials at the lab. "Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question other than to say that the material is well protected," Sandoval said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "And the lab, knowing that it works with hazardous and nuclear materials, takes great pains to make sure it is protected and locked in concrete steel vaults. And the fire poses very little threat to them."

The lab says it has brought in teams to keep an eye on air quality using its AIRNET system, which monitors possible radiological contamination. "We’re doing this as a precaution," lab director Charles McMillan said in a prepared statement. "The health and safety of this community and our neighbors is our highest priority." The town of Los Alamos has already been evacuated.

A pair of 2009 reports from the Department of Energy’s Inspector General found a significant number of fire-protection deficiencies at the lab and concluded that local firefighters had not been adequately trained to fight fires at the lab.

Photo of Los Alamos area on June 27: Los Alamos National Laboratory/Flickr





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