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11 Feb, 2021 11:25

Los Alamos lab, birthplace of the atomic bomb, STILL under threat from wildfires despite repeated major incidents

Los Alamos lab, birthplace of the atomic bomb, STILL under threat from wildfires despite repeated major incidents

Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic bomb and critical US nuclear weapons production facility, remains under threat from wildfires despite several high profile, expensive blazes in recent decades.

A recent audit by the US Energy Department’s inspector general found that threat-reduction measures such as the maintenance of the lab’s network of fire roads, strategic clearing of vegetation in the surrounding area as well as the production of a coherent preparedness and mitigation plan had not been carried out 

Photographic evidence included in the report indicated a tree density of 400 to 500 per acre, 10 times the recommended safe level of 40 to 50 trees per acre. 

New Mexico features among a number of states in the American west which have been ravaged by increasingly intense wildfires in recent years, exacerbated by continuing droughts and reduced winter rainfall year-on-year. 

The birthplace of the atomic bomb has witnessed two decades of wildfires which have caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to a key asset in the US nuclear arsenal. 

One major incident was a two-week closure following the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 which ruined numerous research projects, destroyed a section of the town and threatened a vast store of radioactive waste kept at the lab, potentially endangering the lives of tens of thousands of residents in nearby Santa Fe.

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The facility is a key manufacturing site for plutonium parts which are integral to the country’s nuclear arsenal. 

“The threat and risks of wildfire to the lab and northern New Mexico will continue to increase because of climate warming, drought and expanded nuclear weapons production,” said Jay Coghlan, director of the group Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

Authorities at the lab claim measures have been undertaken prior to the publication of the audit, however. 

“We continue to review our wildfire and forest health plans and have already implemented most of the recommendations the Department of Energy offered to improve our efforts to protect the public, the environment and the laboratory,” lab spokesman Peter Alden Hyde said.

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