Los Alamos nuclear lab warns of radioactive trees
LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico - Workers trying to thin forests near Los Alamos National Laboratory have been told not to remove trees cut down in certain areas because they might be radioactive, lab officials said.
\"The lab has identified a few patches in a zone not heavily forested that was surveyed before and after experiments in the 1940s and 1950s,\" said Jim Danneskiold, a spokesman for the lab in New Mexico where the first atomic bomb was built in 1945. \"As a precaution, we\'ve told them (workers) to steer clear of those areas.\"
The trees are located in Bayo Canyon, a destination about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of Santa Fe which is popular with horseback riders and hikers. The site, formerly known as Technical Area 10, was used in the 1940s and 1950s as a place where scientists at the nuclear lab studied explosions.
Danneskiold said the area where radioactive contamination has been detected is a one-acre (0.4 hectare) site in Bayo Canyon, where all the trees were blown away during tests on explosives.
That area has been fenced off to both workers and the general public. The lab is warning workers not to remove wood thinned in the 30 surrounding acres (12 hectares) as a precaution against possible radioactive contamination.
\"There is no risk to recreational users,\" Danneskiold said.
But not everyone agrees.
\"Recreational users should be worried. Breathing that dust is not good,\" said Greg Mello, who heads the Los Alamos Study Group, which monitors lab activity. He contends there are several contaminated sites near the lab.
Hundreds of homes and thousands of acres were burned in May 2000 when fire ravaged the area near Los Alamos and threatened the laboratory.
Since then, forest and county officials have been thinning parts of the pine forest to reduce the risk of fire, said Bill Armstrong, a forester with the U.S. Forest Service.
Trees collected on laboratory property from areas where experiments never occurred are being offered to the public as free firewood, Danneskiold said.
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