UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: The town of Los Alamos is being evacuated.
Lab officials assured that radioactive materials are being protected from the almost 50,000-acre Las Conchas fire.
The fire has closed in on Los Alamos National Laboratory property—within a mile—but hasn’t reached the lab yet.
Spokesperson Kevin Roark said in an interview with the Alibi that there are a variety of nuclear facilities at LANL and several metric tons of uranium, plutonium, americium and others. These materials are kept in the most secure facilities at the lab, he said—deep inside vaults within concrete and steel buildings. “There is no threat from wildland fires,” he said.
During the Cerro Grande fire eleven years ago, the blaze ate up 7,500 acres of LANL property, Roark added, and there was no release of nuclear or hazardous material.
The Cerro Grande fire raged for more than a month in 2000, burned Bandelier National Monument and left 400 people in Los Alamos without homes.
There were concerns after the fire about the airborne release of contaminants, but Roark says monitoring showed that Cerro Grande was no more or less radioactive than any forest fire. Read a full assessment of the aftermath by the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and the Nuclear Policy Project.
The fire also caused erosion and runoff, and contaminants threatened the Rio Grande. But Roark assures: “There were not appreciable levels of radioactivity in the runoff.” After the Cerro Grande fire, LANL installed structures to prevent heavy runoff in the future, he added.
Comparing the two fires to try and predict impact is highly speculative, he pointed out. “The [Las Conchas] fire has not reached lab property.”