On June 26, 2011 the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico saw thousands of residents evacuating ahead of the wildfire that rained down ash from towers of smoke. Now, there are signs of normalcy as just recently officials have allowed people to return to their homes.
But Los Alamos could have remained a ghost town, and thousands of lives could have been affected.Twenty thousand barrels of burning nuclear waste could have spelled catastrophe.
This fast-moving blaze was the largest on record in New Mexico, covering 136,955 acres. Of catastrophic concern was that the wildfire surrounded the Las Alamos nuclear facility - the birthplace of the atomic bomb. There were approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste contained in a fabric-type building that could easily be reached by fire. If the fire had actually reached this area, a major calamity would have ensued.
Some of today’s most dangerous weapons are made up at Los Alamos National Laboratory. So when one small fire came within 50 feet of an area containing highly explosive and radioactive material, there was a huge collective sigh of relief when it was safely extinguished.
Though officials say the nuclear material is now secure and there is no public danger, not all security officials were convinced that’s how the story would end. No one can say what would’ve happened
if the drums containing nuclear waste had burned.
Right now, the New Mexico Environmental Department is monitoring the air for radioactive particles and continues to check for possible radiation contamination
from the fire. Fortunately, though the fire came dangerously close to the laboratory, firefighting efforts paid off. Fire crews created a blackened ring to encircle the lab, and hoped that starting fires would be able to stop the raging inferno. It seems to have worked . . . this time. No radiation detected, but the danger isn’t over.
The first air quality tests revealed no radiation had been released. The Environmental Protection Agency brought in dozens of air monitors along with a special airplane to take instant radiation samples. So far there is no cause for alarm, but environmental officials say the danger is not over. There is also concern about what’s in the canyons that surround the laboratory. Nuclear tests were conducted in that area in the 1940s. This means that any trees that have grown since that time, as well as the soil, contain “legacy contaminations
.” If they get heated and the contamination goes airborne then there is cause for more concern.
A 2000 fire burned much of the area with no high levels of radiation being detected, so everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the same luck will hold true this time around.