Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Indside Los Alamos:Wildland Fire Threatens National Security Lab

The Las Conchas fire,which has burned 49,000 acres in New Mexico,is threatening a major nuclear weapons facility,Los Alamos National Laboratory.Officials at the lab say the radioactive materials are safe,although about one acre of the lab property was scorched Monday afternoon.Tech Area 49,a former radioactive explosives test site and now a training facility,was quickly extinguished.No off-site releases of contamination were detected by lab personnel.
The lab will remain closed Wednesday to all non-essential workers.The 12,000 residents of Los Alamos are under a mandatory evacuation order.No fires burned on lab property Monday night,and all hazardous material was accounted for and protected.There are reportedly 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste stored at the lab,but the lab takes great pains to make sure it is protected and locked in concrete and steel vaults,and the fire poses little threat to them,said lab spokesman Steve Sandoval.
The lab has a wildland fire helicopter landing pad with water tanks.It is conducting aerial reconnaissance of the fire area.Ground crews and airdrops had extinguished the Area 49 blaze in a matter of hours.The lab also has a meteorological team that is closely watching wind and weather conditions as the fire rages through the Jemez mountains outside the lab's western boundary.The lab is located 35 miles NW of Santa Fe.
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security.It is operated by a consortium of private and public entities,including Bechtel National,the University of California,Babcock&Wilcox and the Department of Energy.
The lab enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile,developing technologies to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction and solving problems related to energy,the environment,infrastrucure,health and global security concerns.
There are 11,782 employees at the lab,with a guard force of 497.Of its 2 billion annual funding,51% is spent on Nuclear National Security Administration weapons programs.The NNSA manages and secures nuclear weapons,oversees non-proliferation efforts and U.S. Navy shipboard reactors.It has emergency response capability both at home and abroad,and safeguards nuclear weapon,component and special nuclear material transport by heavily guarded truck convoy.
Critics have produced a photo supposedly depicting hundreds of nuclear waste barrels exposed to open air at the lab.These could burst open if embers from the fire land on them,a nuclear physicist pointed out.
LANL sprawls across 36 square miles.Home to the World War II Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bombs,the facility contains 2,000 buildings.A glowing orange light engulfed the nearby Jemez mountains as the fire belched a huge smoke plume.Senator Tom Udall,D-New Mexico,was carefully monitoring the situation of his constituency,listening to lab briefings on Tuesday.
Local officials said there is no guarantee the fire won't spread across the sensitive lab property.
Update:By Wednesday morning,the fire had consumed 61,000 acres.It was 3% contained.The outlook wasn't good because of the hot,dry forecast.
Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker explained that the barrels being stored in the open air,under canvas tents,were low level nuclear waste.The barrels were vented and equipped with HEPA filters.Should the fire approach them,however,firefighters would spray the barrels with protective foam.
Update 2:As of late Thursday,the Las Conchas fire had burned 93,678 acres,touching the southern border of LANL and coming near the lab's western border.More than 1200 firefighters with 52 engines were working the blaze in high winds.
The fire was on Santa Fe National Forest,Jemez Ranger District,but was believed to have started on private property.No homes are thought to have been lost.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Covering Nature Again:Acorn Outlook

Although this blog has lately been concentrating on the maritime forces and military issues generally,it has in the past covered nature as well.Given its vague title,it could really dwell on any topic in the world.Some readers continue to discover and read those old nature posts,so I wanted to produce a new one.
The first days of summer can bring the natural world to the forefront of our senses.The next season is present in small ways even in the present one.
A large pin oak,for example,is promising a bumper crop of acorns for this autumn.There are many tiny acorns on it now.Last year was a rather poor one for acorn production.
That is the way with oak trees.They deprive mast-eating wildlife one year,only to make up for it the next.It's apparently a way of regulating wildlife,adjusting their population,ensuring that there will be plenty of new oaks as well as birds and mammals.
The chrysanthemums under the pin oak are budding already.They will soon start blooming,seizing the first minute decrease in day length.This step toward far-off autumn by the sun will not be noticeable until after the Fourth of July.Pennsylvania fireflies will continue to flash their signals in the late dusk.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Destroyer Shadows North Korean Freighter

The USS McCampbell(DDG 85),an Arleigh Burke class destroyer,shadowed North Korean freighter M/V Light at the end of May as the North Koreans headed for Myanmar,formerly known as Burma.A UN Security Council resolution bans all North Korean arms exports and authorizes member states such as the U.S. to stop them.
On 26 May,the McCampbell caught up to the freighter and requested permission to board it,which the North Koreans denied.The M/V Light did turn around in a few days,however,and returned to North Korea,its suspicious cargo undelivered.
Myanmar,regarded as a dictatorship by Western nations,is also under a UN arms embargo.North Korea is believed to be its principal source of weapons,perhaps including missiles and nuclear technology.
A longtime issue between Myanmar and the U.S. was resolved when Aung San Suu Kyi,66,a Nobel Peace Prize winner,was released from house arrest by the Myanmar leaders on 13 November,2010.Dr.Aung,a graduate of the University of London,is a prominent opposition political figure and human rights advocate in Myanmar.She is the daughter of the father of Myanmar's independence from the British in 1947,Aung San,and was released when her detention order expired,just after a suspect election which extended the Myanmar junta's reign.
The USS McCampbell is homeported in Yokosuka,Japan.She was built by General Dynamics at the Bath Iron Works,Maine and can sail at up to 30+ knots.
General Dynamics(GD)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Training Base Attacked in Baghdad

Five U.S. troops died in a rocket attack by Shiite miltiamen in Baghdad on Monday,and five more were wounded.The truck-mounted rockets were fired at joint U.S.-Iraqi Forward Operating Base Loyalty,near the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.The U.S. forces were training Iraqi national police officers at the base.
About 4500 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq War.So far this year,30 U.S. troops have been killed,which is roughly on pace with last year's toll.
At the height of the conflict in 2007,961 Americans were killed.Monday's attack was the worst single incident for U.S. forces in Iraq in two years,however,and another U.S. soldier died on Wednesday in southern Iraq.The Shiite militias often target Iraqi government compounds and hospitals,but attacking U.S. troops definitively demonstrates their competence and courage,from their point of view,as well as helps ensure that the U.S. does not extend its mission in Iraq beyond 31 December,in their opinion.
Iraq's government realistically has until the end of October to request that U.S. troops continue their advise,train and assist role in Iraq.Since it takes about two months for the 46,000 remaining Americans to withdraw,a later request would effectively be too late,the withdrawal having already begun by 31 October.
U.S. officials such as Admiral Michael Mullen,outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,made it clear that the U.S. is open to staying on in its supportive mission,Operation New Dawn.
Iraq has about 650,000 personnel in the army and national police,but they need instruction and backup in intelligence,logisitics,maintenance,combined arms operations,and border and airspace protection.