Despite Fire Threat to Los Alamos Lab, Plans Proceed for Plutonium Bomb Factory

Thursday, July 07, 2011
The largest fire in New Mexico history finally receded from the edges of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, but it crept close enough to spark concern among local residents and anti-nuclear activists opposed to the lab’s proposed plutonium facility.
A watchdog organization, the Los Alamos Study Group, has fought to delay the building of Los Alamos’ new plutonium factory, known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility. The group sued the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy, demanding they conduct a new environmental impact statement for the project because the scope of the new facility had expanded considerably since the original assessment was performed in 2003.
A federal judge, however, dismissed the lawsuit on grounds that Los Alamos was conducting a “supplemental” impact statement to determine the effects of the enlarged factory on the environment. The new facility is expected to be completed by 2023 and add 32,000 square feet to the lab overall.
That’s a head scratcher for Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “We should be cleaning up, not building up new production plants that will produce yet more radioactive and toxic wastes.”  
Located on the sprawling grounds of the lab are 20,000 drums of plutonium waste. Locals have pointed out that had the 93,000-acre blaze moved eastward, the entire region could have been endangered by the release of the highly toxic material.
Fire isn’t the only concern of people who monitor activities at the national lab. The site sits 5 miles from the Jemez volcanic field and about 5 miles from Valles caldera, one of the three largest, youngest, and potentially active calderas in the United States. The Pajarito Fault System, an active tectonic feature, lies just west of Los Alamos and has major sub-faults crossing beneath lab facilities.
New Mexico is no stranger to earthquakes and a seismic network run by the Los Alamos lab has detected 2,500 quakes in north-central New Mexico since its inception in 1973. The network used to consist of 20 tracking stations, but in recent years it has been reduced to seven.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Ken Broder
Nuclear Weapons Lab Reopens as Fire Danger Fades (by Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press)
Shake, Rattle, and Roll: The Los Alamos Seismic Network (by James A TenCate and Peter M. Roberts, Los Alamos National Laboratory)


robert 13 years ago
anyone who has ever been to northern new mexico has driven past camel rock, or perhaps gone hiking in bandelier national monument, has seen "tent rocks" - as in the case of camel rock very large rocks pearched on pinnacles created by erosion. the sparse rains of new mexico have eroded the supporting pinnacles over tens of thousands of years, leaving the rocks balanced above. based on the abundant evidence what do you suppose the likelihood is of a significant (i.e. one that could damage concretee buildings) earthquake in northern new mexico? simply reporting "2500 earth quakes" detected is grossly misleading. what was the maximum strength of said earthquakes? most if not all were less than a 5.0 (i.e. below the perception of humans) and what then do you suppose is the probability of a powerful earthquake in the next 10,000 years or so? furthermore, cmr is not a "plutonium factory". it is an actinide research facility, a laboratory, not a plant. but i dont suppose the authors of this "article" know or care to know the difference.
Dave 13 years ago
nothing says "lets scare the public" like "nuclear bomb factory." great job guys. i'm sure the new facility makes some facet of a bomb part at best. the earthquake quip was tired and weak. do some real research. read up on the fire analysis data and regulations that must be rigorously followed for fire breaks between facilities and areas. find something there to attack. it may actually be something legit to help.

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