New Mexico fire threatens Los Alamos nuclear site

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34 Responses to “New Mexico fire threatens Los Alamos nuclear site”

  1. dghenke says:

    On Monday evening, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a nuclear watchdog group, had issued a media alert Monday evening warning about the proximity of the fire to Area G, where transuranic radioactive waste contained in metal containers is housed, awaiting transportation to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

    About 10,000 of the containers are stored above ground under fabric domes, and 6,000 are “retrievably” buried, a lab official said Monday. The official said the containers have not been tested for their ability to withstand wildfire, but he noted Area G is “relatively barren, most of it is paved and there’s not a lot of fuel there.”

    Tucker, the fire chief, said he was not worried about the fire getting to the barrels.

    (Source: Trip Jennings, The New Mexican)

    One good source of reasonably sober and timely information is the New Mexico Fire Information page.

    More timely but less sober is the #nmfire Twitter hashtag, recommended only to readers who have a fully operational bullshit detector.

    The LANL Flickr stream also has some good (but scary in an “In Los Alamos, you can just walk into Mordor” way) photos.

  2. Roy Trumbull says:

    We were in Santa Fe one year when the Santa Fe Opera facilities were open for tours. There is a rear stage wall that can be opened. It is left open when they do Madam Butterfly. The mountains bare a striking resemblance to those seen at Nagasaki. The twinkling lights are Los Alamos.

  3. DeWynken says:

    Well..if this doesn’t kill us all, there’s always Yellowstone…

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am a firefighter out of Carlsbad, NM for the BLM who will be on his way soon to this or one of the other many fires burning around the southwest right now and thought I might share where you can get the info straight from the horses mouth on this fire

    -Los Conchas incident website
    http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2385/

    -SW Coordination Center
    http://gacc.nifc.gov/swcc/

  5. Roy Trumbull says:

    I do recall the bunkers in the hills by Kirkland AFB once held nuclear warheads. Is that still true or was it ever true?

    • hettie says:

      I think you mean manzano base. no worries, though, especially for those of us in abq, as those weapons have since been moved into the city and are now stored at kirtland itself.

      a local “joke” is that if new mexico seceded from the union, we’d be the third largest nuclear power in the world.

    • Thebes says:

      Yes, there are nukes at Kirkland. There are also a lot of weapons being built and refurbished at LANL, as well as biological weapons research. Probably those items are well protected from fires (and enemy bombers)- there are local rumors that much of the production equipment is at a considerable distance and well underground in tunnels.

      Of larger concern is waste from the early nuclear era which was never properly disposed of, they are cleaning up some of these sites but some are almost open to the air under tents. There is also a large volume of waste “awaiting transport” to be buried a half mile down in some southern NM desert.

  6. Joshua Ochs says:

    “But don’t worry, there are only 20,000 barrels of plutonium waste at the facility, and at the time of this blog posts, the fire is a full two miles away from the site where they’re stored.”

    You know, we can form our own opinions based on the articles and quotes posted. No need to be sarcastic and alarmist.

    • Anonymous says:

      “You know, we can form our own opinions based on the articles and quotes posted. No need to be sarcastic and alarmist.”

      [Homer Simpson sotto voce] Psssst! You’re reading a blog.

    • Pag says:

      You can actually tell if it’s Maggie or Xeni who wrote an article on nuclear plants and problems, without looking at the name, just by the level of alarmism in the article.

      • Meng Bomin says:

        Yup, when I saw the title of the article on my feedreader, I said to myself, “I bet Xeni Jardin wrote this one.” I was not disappointed.

        I wonder who she uses as sources on these nuclear-related stories. Whoever they are, they really have her running scared.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          Whoever they are, they really have her running scared.

          She actually leaves her house. Maybe that affects her perceptions.

          • Joshua Ochs says:

            “She actually leaves her house. Maybe that affects her perceptions.”

            Really, now we’re mocking commenters because they disagree?

            I don’t think you can argue that Xeni isn’t strongly anti-nuclear, and that is driven by fear. Whether that’s legitimate or not is up for debate, but her very anti-nuclear stance is not. I don’t object to the stance as much as the alarmist and sarcastic way she goes about it. And having a moderator back her up by belittling commenters and banning them (hi, there!) does not make things any better.

            As for whether or not those in support of nuclear power are apologists – well, maybe a little. But it’s hard not to sound that way when the media just keeps pumping fear, fear, fear. I don’t think it’s perfectly safe – nothing is ever 100% – but my opinion is that the fears are usually overblown. *That* said, the plants that we have running today are more dangerous and their waste far more difficult to deal with than modern designs, but we’re never going to get those modern designs unless we start building more plants and retiring the old ones. That’s what makes the anti-nuclear thing so deeply frustrating – it’s stalled progress to the level of the 60′s and 70′s.

          • travtastic says:

            That’s what makes the anti-nuclear thing so deeply frustrating – it’s stalled progress to the level of the 60′s and 70′s.

            You seem to be confusing a feature for a bug. The actual bug is that they keep operating the damn things anyway.

  7. emo hex says:

    Shouldn’t it be New Mexican fire?
    Aren’t people from New Mexico New Mexicans?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, people from New Mexico are called New Mexicans. People there eat New Mexican cuisine, read The New Mexican newspaper, and drive like New Mexicans. They did not invent fire – so it’s not correct to name the fire that way. The name of this fire is Las Conchas.

  8. Antinous / Moderator says:

    scary in an “In Los Alamos, you can just walk into Mordor” way

    Los Alamos looks like a Maxfield Parrish painting compared to the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts in SoCal.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I live there. I work there.

    There’s a sizable fraction of the readership here that won’t believe it, but sometimes when the government says there’s not a problem — there’s actually not a problem.

    The waste is either buried in the dirt or has a significant defensible buffer between it and the burnable stuff. If the fire nears that buffer will be occupied by lots of motivated people with the sole job of protecting it.

    Stuff identified as waste and in drums is not a problem.

    Stuff in buildings, at least the critical ones, is not a problem due to the aforementioned motivated folks with fire hoses.

    Stuff in the magazines and bunkers is not a problem. Countless mags were burned over in Cerro Grande. Those things are designed for this.

    The only, and I mean the ONLY, real concern might be the dispersed contamination (mostly DU and other metals – the Pu is really, really dilute) in the 40-some square miles of relative wilderness up there. If it all burned you’d see some release in the air monitors.

    Would it be hazardous? Probably not too bad – actinides usually make airborne species that are hard to both inhale into the lungs and not exhale immediately after. Do I want to breathe the smoke? Of course not.

    Is the media blowing this out of proportion? Not if you’re one of us with houses, loved ones and cherished memories on the forest trails up there.

    If you’re Joe Concerned Citizen in Wisconsin? Yeah, it’s being hyped a little much. No – there’s not a nuclear reactor there anymore. There will be no meltdown. There are no actual weapons there (lotsa parts though!). God/Gaia/Mother Nature is not punishing us for anything other than putting a very expensive facility in the high desert – south Rocky Mountains.

    I can only hope for rain, gentle winds and the fire fighters’ success. Great thanks to the generous people of Espanola, Santa Fe and beyond for opening their hearts and their stables and their homes to us refugees.

    This happens every summer all across the west. Not every community gets such attention…

  10. Anonymous says:

    Slow motion tsunami…. But I digress.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank’s anonymous. People don’t want to trust LANL, but it’s not really in anyone’s interest to leave nuclear waste laying around. Do you think anyone should worry about contaminated soil and increased post-fire erosion? That’s what I’ve been worried about, though I don’t spend a lot of time swimming in Cochiti.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Anon, thanks for injecting some calm, informed perspective into this mess. I was reading reports about the fire from other sources around the country this morning, and the thinly veiled panic in the tone of the articles was frustrating and disrespectful to the employees and contractors who work at LANL, who are clearly doing everything possible to protect the sensitive areas and who designed the containment to withstand much worse than this in the first place. It’s almost as if the rest of the country thinks us New Mexicans are sitting on our porches drinking margaritas, watching the forests burn and cackling while we plunge the country into untold perils of nuclear fallout.

    • mccrum says:

      Unnamed sources cite local New Mexican nuclear deathmongers as saying “[We are] are sitting on our porches drinking margaritas, watching the forests burn and cackling while we plunge the country into untold perils of nuclear fallout.”

      /the way the news works

  13. AirPillo says:

    I’d be more worried about the fire burning down innocent people’s homes or workplaces than about the fire breaching waste storage containers that can survive a fiery explosion, and emphasizing the former unlikely thing over the latter likely thing kind of marginalizes the more compelling human cost.

    That said I do really wish we had better long-term storage for all that waste. We can’t just keep stockpiling it at its’ sources in such big amounts.

  14. John says:

    It burns every few years around there – I can even remember the last one a few back. The only difference now is a deceitful anti nuclear movement is seeding conspiracy theories faster than people care to keep up with.

    Another example to add to the list:

    Anti Nuke movement goes supercritical [ http://diseaseclimate.blogspot.com/2011/06/anti-nuke-movement-goes-supercritical.html ]

  15. querent says:

    I hope everything goes well at Los Alamos (forest, human homes, and radioactive drums all included).

    The “nuclear is totally safe and nothing has ever gone wrong or will ever go wrong and it’s nuclear or coal anyway” people sure get talkative at times like these. Maybe the mainstream media is overly alarmist, and this is a reaction. I don’t know.

    Hope all goes well.

    • Cowicide says:

      The “nuclear is totally safe and nothing has ever gone wrong or will ever go wrong and it’s nuclear or coal anyway” people sure get talkative at times like these.

      Yeah, never fails. They almost seem to be driven to make the tireless effort in each and every thread for some reason.

  16. pyster says:

    The containers they use to store nuclear waste are designed to survive train accidents involving lots of flammable material, or at least that is what i recall seeing on penn and teller’s bullshit.

  17. ncarp says:

    with all of the disasters of late, is anyone else getting the sense that we actually live in the original version of Sim City, albeit with better graphics?

  18. Kosmoid says:

    No bag.

  19. lasttide says:

    My company manages LANL and sent out an “it’s all good” kind of email. Also, they said to follow the LANL flickr feed to see what’s really going on: http://www.flickr.com/photos/losalamosnatlab/

  20. DeWynken says:

    Anon in Los Alamos:
    thank you for spreading some truth and common sense. Enjoying the smoke 3 hours away here in Ignacio. Hope they get it under control and there isn’t too much property damage for y’all. I’ve driven through LA and up the fire road past the springs and into the Jemez Mtns and the Caldera State Park..absolutely beautiful back there and I sincerely hope it doesn’t get too ravaged.

  21. eaphelps says:

    LANL folks are really on top of their stuff, wouldn’t get all alarmist about nuclear waste. Biggest danger is to the homes of people that work there and the destruction of 60,000+ acres of beautiful national forest in the Jemez mountains / Bandelier National Monument. Follow twitter #NMfire for updates. So far Pajarito ski hill is getting spot fires, they have a webcam that is working intermittently with power on and off, (could see trees catching fire at ski resort yesterday), crews working hard to stop the fire from reaching the Los Alamos town site.

    • Thebes says:

      It really doesn’t matter how “on top of their stuff” the current Los Alamos lab scientists are. The Federal government has previously reported the the LA fire dept (and I’ve met and respect some of these guys from Ham Radio) is not prepared to handle the unique nature of the radiological disaster that a fire involving waste could pose.

      This is no surprise. The firefighters at Chernobyl and Fukushima were not prepared for the glorious shitstorm of catastrophe that befell them. There would need to be a specially prepared force waiting for a disaster that would come once every dozen generations.

      I spent today shopping for an air filter in Taos. I found one (just one). The plume’s smoke is some of the worst we have ever seen. But what really bothers me is that IF some tritium (half mile from burn) goes, I do not trust these new outside monitoring authorities who have come in since the regular ones were evacuated. A little further away, three miles, there is a large number of barrels on a concrete slab which contain plutonium contaminated waste. Speaking of poorly stored waste, just TWO WEEKS AGO a backhoe pulled up a pipe contaminated by 60 grams of plutonium… that was inside of a tent, but is one of the many old disposal sites where high level waste was dumped before they knew better.

      I am not trying to be a paranoid nutter. I just really do not believe that the US Federal Government can be trusted to say if something like that burns. The Japanese government was dishonest with its own people. The Soviets lied about Chernobyl. If some plutonium burns, say from a fireball* hitting and splitting a stack of barrels, we will never know unless an independent agency finds out and reports it.

      *extreme wildfires will spit out fireballs and cause spot fires at considerable distance downwind from the main fire. This is one of the most extreme fires in the region’s history in terms of the speed of its growth, over 50 square miles in it’s first day.

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