He added: “The U.S. government, the Department of Energy, has spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars for scenarios that are so unlikely to occur that it is even ridiculous to think about.”
The worst-case scenario Energy Department planners could envision for a fire at Los Alamos would release less than 25 rems or radiation _ a dosage that is below short and long-term health concerns, according to a 1998 Environmental Impact Statement for operating the lab written by the department.
The same report said that wildfires are also one of the most likely risks for the lab, along with earthquakes. A bad wildfire is likely to happen at the lab about once a decade, the report said.
The lab was set for idle days again Thursday and Friday.
With no lab employees, residents or shopkeepers around, Los Alamos remained a virtual ghost town.
The economic impact of shutting down the town was already weighing on the minds of city officials and business owners.
“Everybody here is a small business,” said Ron Selvage, owner of the Best Western Hilltop House, the only hotel that was open and filled with firefighters, helicopter pilots and journalists. “We’ll be all right, but all these other businesses still have the same bills they have to pay and no money coming in.”
With the fire continuing to send up columns of smoke on the outskirts of town, fire officials said Wednesday they would not let residents return until it was safe.
The blaze was only 3 percent contained and the weather forecast called for more erratic winds in the coming days.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday toured the area from the air and on the ground as part of a swing through portions of New Mexico and Arizona that have been ravaged in recent weeks by wildfire. He said it was clear how fast the Las Conchas fire had expanded.
“At this point in time, we are comforted by the fact that the lab has not been impacted and there haven’t been, according to the Department of Energy, any compromises to operations there in terms of waste material and things of that nature,” he said. “We’re working hard to try to contain that fire as quickly as possible.”
Vilsack oversees the U.S. Forest Service, which has nearly 9,000 personnel assigned to more than 130 wildfires across the United States. Most of them are focused on fires burning in the Southwest.
AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report from Washington, D.C. Montoya contributed from Albuquerque.
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