Army fights to contain radiation in Fort Bliss military base
Investigators have discovered radiation at a former nuclear weapons bunker at Fort Bliss, Texas. The above-ground concrete bunker sits in a desert area and is covered in dirt. A sign posted at its entrance warns of radiation danger inside the former weapons storage facility.
The bunker was used to store nuclear weapons during the 1950s and 1960s, when Cold War tensions were at their peak. Items containing contaminated residue, such as rags, were buried underground in sealed containers. The Air Force transferred the bunker to the Army in 1966, but did not warn officials about a potential radiation risk.
“It has come to our attention that the Air Force stored radioactive material during the 1950s and 1960s at a remote limited access building,” Maj. Joe Buccino, the public affairs officer at Fort Bloss, told KFOX TV. The Army first heard about the buried materials when a retired man who once worked in the bunker expressed his concerns and said that uranium residue may be contaminating the weapons stored in the bunker. He also expressed concern new housing projects at the military post could dig up the contaminated objects.
After launching a probe two months ago, investigators found alpha and beta particles on the floor of the bunker.
The storage facility contains nearly 100 rifles and machine guns used by soldiers. If these weapons are contaminated, it may be possible that US soldiers were exposed to radiation.
Buccino said that the bunker was once covered with epoxy paint to contain radioactivity, but that the paint has gradually chipped off the walls and potentially allowed radiation to seep through its surfaces. Additionally, possible ingestion of these chips could be dangerous. An assessment conducted by post experts showed that “there is some low level of contamination that could be transferred to personnel.”
It remains unclear if anyone was affected by the radiation, but the 30 people who regularly work in the bunker are currently being tested for contamination.
“We don’t know the scope of the issue, we don’t know, again, if it’s nothing or fairly substantial,” Mark Cauthers, Fort Bliss deputy garrison commander, told KFOX TV. But “we are being cautious. Weapons aren’t being utilized, and we’ll just lock the facility until we know more from the experts.”
The investigation is still in its early stages.
The nearest town is about a mile and a half away, and Fort Bliss is home to more than 32,000 soldiers and 11,000 civilian employees. The base is the nation’s second-largest military installation after Fort Hood. Buccino does not believe nearby homes have been affected by the radiation, and Rep. Pete Gallego of the House Armed Services Committee is warning the public not to panic.
“It is important that we be guided by facts and not fear,” he said. “The safety and well-being of our servicemen and women is the top priority.”