The Los Alamos laboratory, which is being used as a manufacturing facility to process plutonium for nuclear triggers is at threat from fire. DemocracyNow has a very recent update from Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group. Mello reports that fire spotted (leaped) into the lab but was contained. Fire is currently half a mile from a large dump (1.65 million gallons) of low level waste, and three miles from the lab itself. Tritium as well as plutonium could be released. Plutonium is especially dangerous if inhaled, since as little as one microgram in the lungs will cause cancer, so a fire-borne release would be especially dangerous.

Image of Los Alamos Laboratory Technical Area 55 during January 2009
Los Alamos Lab Technical Area 55

Mello stresses that the risks of catastrophic release are small, since the lab is not particularly flammable, and the radioactive waste includes non-flammable materials such as cement paste. Still, the site is also prone to earthquakes, so Murphy’s Law could turn what is presently a situation of concern into a full-scale catastrophe. LASG has  a Twitter feed here.

This is the third US nuclear facility currently at threat. The Fort Calhoun and Cooper plants near Omaha are at danger of flooding.

It is time for a genuine review of nuclear safety, one not influenced by industry and the weapons complex.
Added: Thanks to FDL for promoting this diary. I should note that I heard the estimate of 1 microgram of plutonium causing cancer is from Michio Kaku many years ago, and it is echoed by Helen Caldicott, MD who has reviewed the literature and is very knowledgeable. The estimate is disputed, of course, and we can only hope for the sake of the Japanese in the Tohoku district and environs and for residents living near nuclear sites at risk that Caldicott and Kaku are wrong. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, though.

Also note, that the Las Conchas fire is reported as of late afternoon, June 28th, to have spread to 61,000 acres by a local NM TV station.
Update 2, 11AM Eastern, June 29th: A map of the Las Conchas fire is found here.

AP has a map showing the fire in relation to the labs and the town of Los Alamos here.

The one bit of good news, if one can call it that, is that there was a huge fire 11 years ago, so there are patches of barren earth and tree stumps, making it harder for the fire to leap (Phil Parker, ABQJournal).



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