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.
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.
Today is the National Day of Remembrance for #Downwinders in the United States. NukeWatch New Mexico will continue to fight for the indigenous families and individuals in our local communities who have battled an invisible and deadly enemy for over 75 years: Radiation Exposure. pic.twitter.com/bwoHEJK3vn
— Nuclear Watch New Mexico (@NuclearWatchNM) January 27, 2021
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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