Nuclear material ‘safe’ as Los Alamos fire rages

Radioactive material at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is safe, despite a wildfire which is keeping the lab closed for a fourth day.

The lab will remain shut through tomorrow, with all non-essential staff told to stay away. The nearby town of Los Alamos is being evacuated.

But, so far, the fire has reached the lab only at one remote technical area, and there’s no sign of any leaks.

“All nuclear and hazardous materials, including those at the Lab’s principal waste storage site known as Area G, are accounted for and protected,” it says. “LANL monitoring teams detected no releases of radiological or other contaminants.”

A team from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Radiological Assistance Program is on site to evaluate and help deal with actual or perceived nuclear or radiological hazards.

“The RAP teams’ work will provide another level of assurance that the community is safe from potential radiological releases as the fire progresses,” says site office manager Kevin Smith.

The lab is acutely aware of the dangers of fire, ever since the Cerro Grande fire in May 2000 caused some damage. Since then, it’s bought new fire trucks, thinned trees and built a new interagency fire center with a helicopter base and water dip tanks.

“The lab and our interagency partners have applied the lessons learned from Cerro Grande,” says  Smith. “The improvements between then and now are substantial and they are making a difference in this fire.”