New Mexico Wildfire Threatens Nuclear Weapons Lab

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

A wildfire that has burned more than 6000 acres is raging some 20 km southwest of the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The federal nuclear weapons lab is closed today as a precaution; crews are fighting the blaze. An update sent at 10 a.m. EDT from the lab reads:

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico June 27, 2011—Los Alamos National Laboratory emergency officials are closely watching wind directions this morning as the Las Conchas fire continues to burn southwest of the Lab. Winds generally from the northwest overnight have helped keep the fire from entering Lab property, but forecasts call for a change by mid‑day. LANL's Emergency Operations Center remains operational. Observation aircraft are currently conducting aerial surveys to gauge the fire's growth and current size. Overnight, as a precaution, the Lab cut natural gas to technical areas in LANL's remote southwest area.

All hazardous and radioactive materials remain accounted for and are appropriately protected, as are key Lab facilities such as its proton accelerator and supercomputing centers. Environmental specialists are mobilized and monitoring air quality, but say the principal concern is smoke. The Lab last night announced it would be closed Monday. "It's been a very long night for the fire crews," said Lab Director Charles McMillan. "There has been an outpouring of support from the region, the state, and the federal government and for that we are profoundly grateful."

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