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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

Fire risk to lab waste called low

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The chance of flames from the Las Conchas fire reaching plutonium and chemical waste stored in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Area G waste site is low, Los Alamos fire chief Doug Tucker said at a news conference this afternoon. And even if the flames do approach, the waste is stored in an area cleared of vegetation and protected by fire teams, officials said.

One of the leading Los Alamos National Laboratory anti-nuclear activists said that, while the danger would be high if the waste area burned, the chances of that happening are small.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

The tens of thousands of drums stored outdoors under protective covers has been a central concern for anti-nuclear activists who have long complained about the risks of Area G.

Speaking at a news conference, lab officials said they considered worst case scenarios in evaluating risks and took precautions to ensure that the waste can be protected from fire.

Tucker said there is no chance of the fire “running” – moving through three miles of woods between the fire lines and the waste area. The only alternative is a “spot” fire triggered by wind-blown embers, but lab officials noted that the waste area has already been cleared of vegetation and flammable material that might be sparked.

“I don’t see this as an issue,” Tucker said.

And in a worst case scenario, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the lab has the ability to smother the waste in fire-preventing foam.

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