Wildfire Races to Los Alamos Plutonium

30,000 drums of spent material stored on grounds

By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 29, 2011 1:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – Desperate firefighters scrambled today to keep a raging New Mexico wildfire from thousands of drums of spent plutonium on the grounds of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons facility. The potential danger has already forced the evacuation of the entire town of Los Alamos and the surrounding area. Officials insisted that radioactive material is safely stored and capable of withstanding flames from the nearly hundred-square-mile fire. But they were boosting protective measures and increasing air monitoring to check for radiation. "We are throwing absolutely everything at this that we got," New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall told AP. A finger of the fire jumped brush on Monday and ignited land at the edge of the complex, but was quickly extinguished.

"The concern is that these drums will get so hot that they'll burst. That would put this toxic material into the plume. It's a concern for everybody," said the executive director of anti-nuke organization Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. Group members are also worried that the fire may somehow stir up nuclear-contaminated soil. Lab spokesmen said the flames would have to jump canyons to reach the drums, and they're prepared to coat them with fire-resistant foam. Residents have been told today is the "make or break" period for turning the tide in the fire battle, notes the Albany Times-Union. "We're doing our best to keep it off the lab," said the local fire chief.

Los Alamos residents Ross Van Lyssel (left) and Steve Bowers watch flames from the Las Conchas fire in Los Alamos, NM, yesterday.
Los Alamos residents Ross Van Lyssel (left) and Steve Bowers watch flames from the Las Conchas fire in Los Alamos, NM, yesterday.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The hills light up in flames as the Las Conchas fire burns near the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab.
The hills light up in flames as the Las Conchas fire burns near the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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