Aftermath of the LANL fire remains in the forefront for Northern New Mexico

*Concerns about the fire that swept over one third of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) property continue to mount. The issue over what was released into the air remains a major concern voiced in ongoing Santa Fe community meetings. The next major concern for citizens is what will happen when the rains pour down on the charred mountain-sides, and whether erosion caused by the fire will unleash toxic and radiological contaminants into the Rio Grande. Jim Danneskiold, a lab spokesperson said that so far the emergency teams of hydrologists, soil scientists and other experts have identified some known dump sites that might release nuclear and chemical waste into streams and rivers once the region's torrential summer rains begin in July.

LANL is surrounded by once heavily forested lands, and built on several mesas, with steep canyons in between. A group of people, including representatives from Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, (CCNS) toured the scorched mountains and canyons up in Los Alamos this week. As people have been saying, it looks like a bomb was dropped on the "bomb city." The fire burned uncomfortably close to Area G, LANL's large nuclear dump-site, also called the "hot-dump" by workers. This mesa has many nuclear burial sites, but it is also where numerous 55-gallon drum containers with hazardous nuclear-contaminated wastes are stored above ground in plastic-domed tents. Trees just across the street from this dump had burned. The group couldn't get into Technical Areas, but saw much evidence of the massive burn from the road.

The labs spokeperson, Danneskiold said, "There definitely will be movement of contaminated sediments off lab property, it's a question of when, not if, the flood waters come through."

The fire that burned Los Alamos inflicted considerably more damage at the nation's premier nuclear weapons design and development facility than officials initially acknowledged.

According to lab officials, the fire devoured about 40 trailers, sheds, warehouses and other nonpermanent buildings, caused millions of dollars in smoke and heat damage to lasers and other sensitive equipment, and delayed a multitude of secret, defense-related research and other work. Destroyed also, were several wooden buildings from the Manhattan Project, including one containing blackboards still covered with chalk notes used to construct the first atom bomb.

It has been almost a month since the lab was closed. Thousands of physicists, engineers and other lab workers have now returned to the battered facility. But in locations where the fire was most intense, like, research and explosive-testing sites, these areas will remain closed for an indefinite period of time.

The Los Alamos fire has devoured over 47,650 acres so far, including parts of the Los Alamos lab, the Santa Fe National Forest, the San Ildefonso Pueblo and Santa Clara Pueblo. Although the inferno is now mostly under control, high winds continue to keep fires going on Santa Clara Pueblo lands.

The fire's long-term danger is being discussed at numerous meetings held by the Burned Area Emergency RehabilitationTeam, called the BAER team. (pronounced bear) The BAER team, an interagency task force continues to assess the threat from erosion on the now-barren hills and canyons surrounding the town of Los Alamos, which adjoins the lab. Former evergreen laden mountains around the town now have only scorched tree trunks on them.

Ken Palmrose, a spokesman for the BAER team, said that computer models project erosion "that could be 100 times normal." He said the challenge was so immense that they are considering damming canyons or building large sediment pools.

Helicopters and a plane have started aerial reseeding of severely burned areas with native species of grass, but area citizens are concerned that officials are moving too slowly to clear up the toxic contaminants which are known to be in hundreds of sites around the lab and in the canyons where many hazardous contaminants were just dumped in the early years of LANL.


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