Wildfire Threatens Area Around US National Nuclear Lab

Posted June 29th, 2011 at 11:10 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. national nuclear laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, is expected to remain closed until Thursday as a large wildfire threatens the area around the facility.

The lab said in a statement it will be closed for all activities and that nonessential employees are expected to remain off-site. The lab and residents of the town of Los Alamos were evacuated on Monday as the Las Chochas fire came within a few kilometers of the site.

Lab officials have said all nuclear and hazardous material – including hazardous waste stored on the complex – is safe.

Crews say the fire has now grown to more than 24,000 hectares. They said the main blaze sparked a smaller fire on the lab site itself, but that it was quickly extinguished.

Fire crews across the U.S. are currently battling more than 30 large wildfires in several states.

Meanwhile, some U.S. nuclear officials are downplaying concerns about two nuclear power plants in the central U.S. state of Nebraska that are being threatened by flooding.

Water from the Missouri River has surrounded the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station, while floodwaters have been creeping closer to the Cooper Nuclear Power Station.

The officials that oversee both power plants have said there is no possibility of a meltdown at either facility. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Gregory Jaczko says there is no immediate threat.

There have been concerns that the floodwaters could knock out the plants' electric power supply, allowing the nuclear materials to overheat, leading to a possible meltdown.

Officials say sufficient back-up systems are in place to make sure there is no repeat of the problems that sparked a partial meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant following an earthquake and tsunami earlier this year.

Meanwhile, flooding in the central state of North Dakota has threatened dozens of cities across the state.

The Souris River crested at its highest level in 130 years on Sunday, damaging an estimated 3,000 homes and displacing more than 12,000 people in the city of Minot.