Subj: Critical Nuke Facility Nearly
Date: 5/15/00 7:30:54 AM Pacific Daylight Time
From: email@example.com (NewsHawk Inc.)
Critical Nuke Facility Nearly Compromised//
--Radioactivity Increases Acknowledged
It's 'Fess Up Time!
Many thanks to Mark and Sabre Hunter for alerting us to this and other
critical infromation on the subject.
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Fierce struggle detailed at Los Alamos
By BOB DROGIN and PHIL WILLON
Los Angeles Times
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. -- A wildfire repeatedly
threatened critical nuclear weapon facilities inside the Los Alamos
National Laboratory over the last three days and was far more harrowing
than officials previously had acknowledged, a tour of the still-smoking
site revealed Saturday.
Nearly 100 firefighters battled most of Friday night, for example, in a
fierce struggle to protect a complex where scientists test highly
radioactive materials to study how nuclear explosions occur. Three fires
had roared down a canyon and
converged on the facility.
A day earlier, intense flames and heat twice roared over the lab's
underground emergency command headquarters, forcing those inside to flee
for safety, according to Stanley Busboom, the lab's safety director.
"This whole area was fully involved with flames for the better part of a
day," he said.
The lab's heavily armed security force was also forced to retreat
Thursday when the fire raced toward the lab's main plutonium storage
facility. Officials said they didn't fear a security breach since the
compound was surrounded by flames and thus was inaccessible.
The fire had leapfrogged the road known as "Plutonium Alley" that leads
to the site, which produces the "plutonium pits" that serve as fuel in a
Firefighting crews battled from sunrise to sunset Thursday to keep the
conflagration from reaching the plutonium storage facility's fortified
concrete compound. At one point, wind-driven flames swept over 25
firefighters who refused to retreat.
"We had one heck of a firefight to try to keep the flames away," said
Doug MacDonald, the Los Alamos County fire chief. "It blew right over
them. ... They had fire all around them, all around them. And they
didn't pull out."
Pocked black earth, charred trees and smoldering brush Saturday showed
the war was won about 50 feet from the facility, known as Technical Area
55. Officials insisted that the plutonium and other nuclear materials
were locked into buried vaults under heavily reinforced concrete and
were never in danger.
"Our plutonium facility ... was designed to withstand both man-made and
natural disaster," said Gene Tucker, the lab's deputy director of security.
More than a week after the National Park Service started the blaze to
remove dry brush and grass, the fire that had destroyed 260 homes and
threatened the lab remained dangerous.
The blaze in the nearby canyons and valleys was still only 5 percent
contained. It spread in all directions Saturday, reaching Indian land.
Officials were concerned that the fire might reach sacred tribal sites
in Santa Clara Canyon.
Winds picked up later Saturday, and a dry cold front was expected
Monday, bringing higher winds.
About 500 firefighters still battled the blaze Saturday inside the
heavily wooded 43-square-mile laboratory complex. Most of the fires were
confined to the steep canyons that slice the property and are filled
with juniper and pinon pines.
But embers still flickered into orange flames along the ground at
several places along Pajarito Road, the main route within the lab.
And later, as the wind unexpectedly picked up, helicopters dumped water
Flames also reached about a half-mile from the lab's packaging and
storage facilities for radioactive waste, which contain only low- and
mid-level waste. About 20,000 steel barrels and fiberglass boxes of
contaminated gloves, lab coats, beakers and other radioactive trash are
stacked on metal pallets inside fabric-covered domes.
The fire burned several trailers, sheds and vehicles but caused no
damage to major structures, lab officials said.
During a highly controlled bus tour for the media Saturday, lab
officials offered assurance after assurance that the wildfire never
triggered a nuclear threat and that the compound's stockpile of
hazardous materials was secure and safe even during the worst of the fire.
"We have had no contamination. We have not had any radioactive release
at this site or at the lab," Tucker said.
However, the fire torched three canyons on the lip of the facility where
supplies of radioactive waste were dumped during the days of the
Manhattan Project, said Lee McAtee, deputy division director of
environmental safety and health.
McAtee said the Department of Energy has spent millions of dollars to
clean up "historical contamination"-- making the canyons safe enough for
hikers -- but said there are still hazardous remnants.
McAtee said air monitors had picked up "very slight increases" in
radiation but not enough to cause concern.
He said the increase was "consistent from what we'd expect" after a
wildfire and was natural. But he conceded that some may be suspicious.
"I understand the lack of credibility on the part of the lab," he said.
"I know there's a lot of mistrust in the community."
One of the biggest potential environmental threats will come with the
summer rains, when hazardous material washed away in runoff could pool
downstream near homes and threaten water supplies.
"Within the next day or two, we're going to start looking into that,"
McAtee said. "Right now, we just don't know the extent."