Aerial view of the facility.
Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory
An uncontrolled wildfire is burning just one mile away from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), a high-security nuclear research facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The 8-million-square-foot compound contains billions of dollars of equipment, including supercomputers and a particle accelerator, as well as radioactive materials and hazardous chemicals.
The lab is closed for the day due to the proximity of the wildfire. According to LANL officials, even if the fire engulfs the facility — a worst-case scenario — all biohazardous substances will remain secure. "Even if the fire approaches the lab, [the nuclear materials] will be safe," LANL lab safety spokesman Kevin Roark told Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.
"That was the experience we had 11 years ago during the Cerro Grande fire," Roark said, referring to a devastating fire that destroyed several buildings at LANL in May 2000. "There was no release of radioactivity due to that fire." [Read: How Bad Was Japan's Radioactive Contamination of the Ocean?]
Wildfires are common in New Mexico and thus many precautions have been taken at the nuclear facility to protect against them. "The radioactive materials and supercomputers are locked away in vaults deep inside buildings that are constructed of cinder block," Roark said.
To protect the buildings themselves, he said, firefighters are reducing the fuel load on lab property. "That means reducing the number of trees, especially those close to buildings, and cutting back underbrush grasses. We're making less fuel to burn."
"At this time there is no fire on lab property," Roark said at 12:30 p.m. ET. "The latest information is that the northern boundary of the fire was about a mile south of lab property. Right now what we're doing is monitoring the situation very closely and deploying firefighter crews to the field, and working closely with the forest service."
This article was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook. Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover.