The forests surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory have burned and are certain to burn again with some regularity, whether from lightning or human causes. If too many trees are allowed to remain near laboratory facilities, those too will sooner or later burn, despite everyone’s best efforts.
We are not as yet very concerned about radioactive or toxic materials being caught up in the present fire because we do not see, at present, much possibility of uncontrollable fire reaching any of those hazards. There are not many trees near some of the most conspicuous hazards, such as the main nuclear waste storage site, and these wastes are not highly combustible in their present form. The same considerations apply to buildings that contain nuclear materials — they are not very combustible. We assume a reasonable degree of competence on the part of highly-trained firefighters involved, and sufficiency of equipment.
The reappearance of very high winds could complicate matters, however, as could the potential presence of unadmitted hazards in unknown locations. A few laboratory areas do contain volatile soil contamination.
Much about Los Alamos is a de facto secret even whether or not the subject is classified. This information deficit — the trust deficit that goes with it — create problems for firefighters as well as for the rest of us. [Read more...]