Posted at 01:36 PM ET, 06/28/2011

Los Alamos nuclear lab to remain closed as New Mexico wildfire nears


A time exposure of the Las Conchas fire taken late Monday night in Los Alamos. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham - AP/Albuquerque Journal)

Update: Los Alamos fire chief Doug Tucker told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the chances of the flames reaching hazardous waste stored at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is low, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Lab officials said precautions have been taken to protect the waste.

Original post

As the Las Conchas wildfire continues to burn in New Mexico, officials from the Los Alamos National Laboratory say the radioactive and nuclear materials stored there are safe.

A small fire broke out Monday on the nuclear laboratory’s property near Technical Area 49, a site formerly used for radioactive explosives testing and now used for training purposes, but it was quickly contained, according to a U.S. Forest Service press release. “About one acre burned and the Lab has detected no off-site releases of contamination,” the release said. The lab will remain closed to all non-essential employees on Wednesday.

The wildfire has burned an estimated 49,000 acres of land south and west of the lab, according to the Forest Service. Los Alamos’s 12,000 residents are now under a mandatory evacuation order.

The lab will hold a press conference with public safety officials Tuesday afternoon. According to a press release, no fires burned on lab property Monday night and all hazardous materials are “accounted for and protected.”

Glenn Walp, a former Pennsylvania State Police commissioner and author of “Implosion at Los Alamos,” told ABC News that “potential is high for a major calamity if the fire would reach” the area where “approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste” are stored.

Lab spokesman Steve Sandoval would not confirm that there were any such barrels on the property to the Associated Press, but he did say that “low-level waste is at times put in drums and regularly taken from the lab.”

“Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question other than to say that the material is well protected,” he said. “And the lab — knowing that it works with hazardous and nuclear materials — takes great pains to make sure it is protected and locked in concrete steel vaults. And the fire poses very little threat to them.”

The lab — where the first nuclear weapons were developed — has been posting dramatic pictures of the fire to its Flickr account.

By  |  01:36 PM ET, 06/28/2011

 
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