Q&A: Is New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory Really Safe?

  • Share
  • Read Later
STR New / Reuters

Los Alamos County employees work to haul away brush and spray water on trees in Los Alamos Canyon

Los Alamos, N.M. is feeling the heat this week as it battles the Las Conchas wildfire that has been raging since Sunday.

Caused by a fallen power line, the blaze — which spans more than 108 miles — has destroyed about 61,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest and forced the evacuation of the town of Los Alamos (population 11,000).  Worse, the fire is creeping dangerously close to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), one of the country’s biggest nuclear research facilities. At risk are 20-30,000 drums of Cold War-era plutonium-contaminated waste that are sitting above ground in fabric tents in Technical Area 54 within the Area G section.

While LANL officials maintain that no toxins have been released yet, scientists and the EPA are checking for radioactive materials in the air around the 36-square-mile complex, which employs 15,000 people and is made up of 2,000 buildings.  The lab has been closed since Monday and is expected to reopen Thursday.

Peter Stockton, a senior investigator for the independent watchdog Project on Government Oversight (POGO), spoke to NewsFeed about what is at stake now if the Las Conchas wildfire blows too close to the hazardous materials.  An expert on nuclear materials, Stockton has actually worked on POGO’s investigations of LANL that challenged the lab’s fire safety measures.

(PHOTOS: Wildfires Burn in New Mexico and Arizona)

What’s the worst case scenario here?

There was a big fire in 2000, and LANL was really going to get things straightened out for fires after that. [POGO] got tipped off in 2009 by a whistleblower that in PF-4—where the six metric tons of plutonium are, as well as where pits are manufactured [the highly enriched uranium part of nuclear weapons]—they’ve painted over the sprinkler system so many times that it doesn’t work. And we blasted them, and it turned out to be absolutely true; they didn’t work at all.  And then it was determined that LANL had never tested the fire hoses in the building, even though the lab had been there for something like 15 years.

…They found out about a year later that the pressure in the system isn’t great enough to get to the entire building, so they had to do something to mitigate that problem. So I hope that they have taken fire a little more seriously because wildfires are wild; embers and everything are flying all over the place.

So do you think the lab is vulnerable to this wildfire? 

Potentially, yeah. I hope that nothing happens there. But can you imagine how much it would cost to rebuild it? They even want to build a $6-billion building right now next to PF-4 for CMR [Chemistry and Metallurgy Research].

(LIST: Top 10 Devastating Wildfires)

The Associated Press reports that LANL is storing “as many as 30,000 drums of plutonium-contaminated waste in fabric tents above ground.” Is that really a safe standard procedure? Ideally, how should LANL store this waste?

You would think [LANL] would get rid of that stuff.  They talked about getting it out of there, but they simply haven’t.  They [should] store it at WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) in southern New Mexico, an underground storage facility for low-level waste.  But again, now they claim these barrels can stand up to tests of fire.

There is concern about a radioactive smoke plume forming if the wildfire reacts with LANL’s hazardous materials.  What is the risk of that happening?

TA-54 contains 20,000-30,000 drums of waste, but just because it’s low-level waste doesn’t mean anything.  If that becomes airborne, and just a speck of plutonium gets into your lungs, you’re going to end up with cancer down the road. It’s the most toxic substance known to man. It would be very nasty if those drums blew apart, and the wind carried them downwind.

(MORE: The Health Dangers of Radiation Exposure)

Should residents in the surrounding area be worried about the wildfire reacting with LANL’s drums of hazardous waste?

Los Alamos is very concerned, but TA-54 is [also] right next to the town of White Rock. We have a very good friend who lives in White Rock, and he has his RV packed, and we said get out of town because when they do a compulsory evacuation, the roads are going to be a mess. So he’s in a state park 100 miles away now, and he can see the smoke from there. But at least he’s out of town. They’ve done an evacuation of Los Alamos, but White Rock, as of early yesterday, hadn’t done a mandatory one. [These towns] are at the whim of nature now.

Obviously, Japan is still on everyone’s mind. Is there anything that LANL should learn from the way Japan has handled its nuclear crisis? Or anything LANL shouldn’t do?

[Regarding] the $6-billion building I was telling you about, there’s a seismic problem with that, and there’s a seismic problem with a lot of the places at the lab. [LANL is on a fault line.] All of a sudden [officials] are starting to focus on that now. I do believe LANL should be honest about what the situation is. I’m not arguing that they are lying about anything, but they’re putting on the absolute best face, acting as if nothing can happen. But as you know, things can happen.  I’m sure they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances, but whether they’re really as prepared as they should be, I don’t know.

Is there anything else you want to say about this situation in Los Alamos?

Just hope to hell that the wind blows in the right direction.

VIDEO: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Explained in Four Minutes

34 comments
reallife
reallife

Oh the libtard outrage! At one or two mor0ns' racism!

Where is the outrage at millions of black kids being born out of wedlock, at being condemned to a life of poverty from the get go?

Where is the outrage at the Democratic Party using blacks for generations and giving nothing back?

Where is the outrage at the race baiters, starting from the president, and ending with Al Sharpton?

Where is it? Where... you hypocrites?

samuel.stevenson
samuel.stevenson

"A fully Mongrelized America"

Ew, no thanks. Pass on that last part.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

The quote you chose actually points to a much larger source of confusion in this country. Who creates wealth? The guy who ponies up the capital to buy something or the people who, you know, actually WORK!


Confusion on this point is the number one ill facing this country today.




ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Problem is the one black man close enough to Cliven Bundy disputes the allegation that he is a racist. Straight talker yes. Remembered when one golfer teased  Tiger Woods about collard greens and melons. Oh how the race baiters were offended when Tiger himself in an interview said that he usually banter along those lines with his fellow golfers. But what make Sterling beyond offensive is that the people he insulted are the same people he faces on every day. Personal and business meetings. Magic Johnson said he breaks bread with Sterling and had no idea of Sterling resentment of black people.

manlyman
manlyman

@reallife  They're too consumed with glee right now to be outraged realife. Bundy and sterling at the same time has once again swept orgasmic waves across the sea of racebaiting liberals. Christmas morning all over again. Obama is jealous. He's supposed to be the object of their bliss.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@reallife Where is the outrage at idiots like you using talking points not much different than Cliven Bundy.

PhillippaTryndal
PhillippaTryndal

@PaulDirks  

Part of the reason is that people have lost touch with what work itself represents (helped by play not being fully recognised as its opposite, either) - as doing something productive.  Even a job is merely a limited application of this - albeit the most common.  (Play is therefore something done that is non-productive, and therefore done because we find it enjoyable - (joy being why we play, not what play is, which is currently a problem.))


Wealth is therefore about what we produce, beyond merely what we need for survival - (work is implicit in human behaviour for this manner, since doing something in order to survive automatically makes it productive).  Money is merely an abstract representation of what we produce to enable easier trade and storage etc..


Most of the problems we have had, currently, exist because the link between productive behaviour and the money representing it, has been broken - and lack of understanding of work is part of that.


(Oops - KeillRandor here, forgot I was logged into facebook on a friends account.)

TyPollard
TyPollard

@PaulDirks  

Contempt for working people gets less headlines than racist comments but that contempt affects our entire economy.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Donald seems to confuse someone "earning" a paycheck versus him "giving" the paycheck.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ReneDemonteverde So Bundy has one black friend. Bully for him. I'm actually more amused by the hypocrisy of him riding around with an American Flag while at the same time claiming he doesn't believe in the federal government.

jsfox
jsfox

@ReneDemonteverde  Magic Johnson on Sterling: "He shouldn't own a team anymore," said Johnson, who also said Sterling was one of the first people he met after moving to Los Angeles, where he was a Lakers star for many years.

"I had a friendship with him. So for him to then make these comments, or alleged comments, about myself as well as other African-Americans and minorities, there's no place in our society for it. There's no place in our league, because we all get along. We all play with different races of people when you're in sports. That's what makes sports so beautiful."


Please point out where he disputes this allegations. And since when is a recording of him making  racist remarks an allegation?

MrObvious
MrObvious

@ReneDemonteverde  

Only a 'winger could confuse racism with 'straight talk' under the whole canard of having a 'black friend'. Seriously.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jsfox Where did I put Magic`s allegation ? Read and re read my comment. Never did I wrote Magic Johnson allegations. I wrote having broke bread with him it never occurred to Magic about Donald Sterling`s resentment against black people.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jsfox What do you mean Jmax ? Magic said he breaks bread with Sterling {eats with Sterling} period. So assume that eating with Sterling he has no idea that Sterling have a low opinion with black people or else Magic would not eat with him. Isnt it obvious ?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jsfox Really admire Magic. Democrat by affiliation conservative by heart. Worked his way through life helping his father cleaning business offices. Honest, hard working and ambitious. And God fearing man too. Should be role model for black youths everywhere. Not this hip hopping, tattooed, butt showing, gat loving, tattooed bling bling wanna be gangstahs. Many of which are Democrats.

jsfox
jsfox

Having no idea and doubts the allegations are not one in the same. At least not in the English language. On your planet it may mean something different. And based on his recent remarks I would say Magic does not consider him a friend.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 @ReneDemonteverde@manlyman

@TyPollard You did Mantis you did. Maybe you just forgot. We had a discussion about Bush or was it Reagan inabilitiy to control those SAMs from reaching our shores.

After which you disappeared when reminded that it was planes that hit those two buildings. Maybe you went back googling what happened on 9/11,

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 @manlyman@TyPollard I have grown fond of you, Mantis. You are the apple of my heart. But for a  person who claimed Surface to Air Missiles were used at the World Trade Buildings calling other people idiots are a bit too much, don't you think ?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@TyPollard If liberals admire hard work they would not encourage entitlements. If they admire ambition, they would discourage color of skin favoritism. If they admire honesty they would discourage the media from playing favorites and cover the news fair and balanced. If they are God fearing they would not appoint judges who are determined to bar belief in God in public places. Give me a break.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manlyman @TyPollardMost corrupt administration ever? The 138 officials indicted under Reagan want to make you aquitance. As do the thousands of Iraqis and Iranians killed by the chemical weapons that Reagan sold Saddam. And of course there are the 200,000 men, women and children killed by his trained dictator in Guatemala and the thousands of the Americans who died because of crack brought in by his Contra friends. Learn your history, You will sound like less of an idiot.

manlyman
manlyman

@TyPollard  There are those who are God fearing and there are those who just say they are. No truly rational God fearing christian could possibly bring themselves to worship at the alter of the most currupt and godless administration to ever set siege on on our nation. Liberalism since the dawn of time has toiled tirelessly to rid society of even the mere mention of God and Christianity. And has made great strides I might add. To call oneself a liberal and a christian at the same time is the oxymoron of the century. And judging by the way this party has all but eliminated the small business community, which makes up about 80 percent of our economy, I wouldn't exactly call them great admirers of hard work and ambition. And of course its a no-brainer that the liberal party ain't real big on honesty.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@ReneDemonteverde @jsfox  

Honesty, hard work and ambition are traits liberals AND conservatives admire. Many Liberals are also God fearing. Many of these liberals also love hip hop, have tattoos. 

the rest of your list are the racial stereotypes that are sinking the Republican party. 

Well done.