Los Alamos Has Its Faults

J. Robert Oppenheimer was doubtless a smart guy, given his critical role in developing the Atomic Bomb.

But it turns out the place he selected to design and build the bomb – now grown into the major Los Alamos National Laboratory – is over a fault line.

That piece of info was dropped almost in passing yesterday when the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces heard testimony from the directors of the country’s nuclear labs. Los Alamos has been in line for some time for major renovation and building projects. One building, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, was built in 1952, Michael Anastasio, director of LANL told the senators.

A replacement building is in the works, but the project will be delayed if money planned for its construction is cut back as the government looks to areas to reduce the budget. A proposed FY 2012 budget of $11.78 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration includes a 21 percent increase in infrastructure improvements, some of which would be going toward continued construction of a new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility.

“With a delay, we’ll of course have to continue to work in our old facility, which right now is almost 60 years old,” Anastasio said. “And it happens to be, literally, on top of an earthquake fault – not the best place for a nuclear facility. A reminder of that is to look what’s happening in Japan.”

– Bryant Jordan


  • Metalmarine825

    HA “faults” I see what ya did there….

  • Jonathan

    What will they do about it? Nothing.

    These companies only care about profit even though they have such a huge responsibility.

    Considering how dangerous and how long contamination lasts for, humanity should require that EVERY effort and possible disaster scenario is accounted for to the best of our ability.

    100 foot thick walls, everything buil underground, triple redundancy cooling at minimum, even if they meltdown they have sarcophagus’s already built around them, water reservoirs built around them so if piping or pumping is disrupted you can release water into them manually with gravity, etc etc etc etc.

    Companies want to put the entire Earth in danger they should have to be the most paranoid and safety conscious structures we could possibly conceive.

    Nuclear power plants should be something out of a science fiction movie on how sophisticated and over engineered they are. Yet they are there above ground with only a few feet on concrete between us and an invisible wave of death that lasts for thousands of years.

    Now that I see Japan and memories of Chernobyl, I realize how foolish and noncholant we are and Murphy’s Law is going to end us all.

    • Musson

      It wasn’t the EarthQuake that got Japan.

      It was the Tsunami that knocked out the backup desiel generators that powered the cooling pumps. Even then - 8 hours of battery backup would have been enough if the designers have thought to have a plug in port for Backup / Backup desiel generators.

      • kim

        Even so, reckon the Los Alamos buildings are prepped for earthquakes like buildings are in Japan? Methinks it’s very unlikely they are.

  • Red Five

    Having lived there myself a dozen years ago, an earthquake fault line is the least of their concerns. The whole city and most of the Laboratory sits on a series of mesas that branch out from the Jemez mountains. Oh, did I mention that the peak directly west of town, out of which those mesas come, is actually a dormant volcano? It blew its top thousands of years ago, leaving a large caldera, and there is still occasional volcanic activity.

    Miles off to the right-hand side of the photo in the post is TA-55, the plutonium storage facility. I suspect that they have that stuff stored deep under ground. Just above and to the right of center in the photo, you can see a bridge. That bridge crosses a canyon which contains a now-dormant facility which used to generate medical isotopes (also off to the right of the photo a mile or 2). Those are the only facilities that I recall which would have significant amounts of radioactive materials; well, those and perhaps the particle accelerator (TA-53) which is also miles off to the right of the photo, though on a different mesa from TA-55.

    • blight

      You’red inspired to break out Wikimapia and find this stuff.

  • Stephen Russell

    Relocate whole lab to E NV?
    Or key sections?
    Massive move to Area 51NV?
    Museumize Los Alamos Lab key sections for Income.

    • blight

      Considering they don’t even have the budget to renovate lab buildings, how could they relocate?

  • bobbymike

    Support the full modernization of the nuclear enterprise and the strategic triad. There should be no doubt that the US intends to maintain and field the most modern nuclear deterrent we can under New Start limits.

    Plus research into gigaton nukes for asteroid defense :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/benbusy Benjamin Peterson

    Who writes this shit? You guys suck. Shachtman and the former team were real journalists … this is horseshit. Probably some motherfucking Air Force E1.