Cold War clean-up


Stimulus funds are now being used to tackle one of the West's biggest nuclear messes: The 65-year old atomic dump in Los Alamos, N.M. is finally getting some much-needed attention. On Thursday the New York Times reported that a team of workers using $212 million in federal stimulus money will clean up the site on the Pajarito Plateau—part of a larger stimulus-funded program of $6 billion to “clean up the toxic legacy of the arms race.” Another site in Hanford, Wash., is receiving $1.9 billion for a similar undertaking.

The projects will also provide employment—more than 10,800 positions have been saved or created with the money, according to the New York Times. However, the Times added that:

…the money was only a down payment on what is still a staggering task: the Department of Energy is responsible for cleaning up 107 sites, with as much acreage as Delaware and Rhode Island combined, in work that could take decades and cost up to $260 billion to complete.

Some residents of the town that has grown up around the old laboratory, including businesses across the street from the dump, are suspicious of the clean-up operations. Over the years many lab employees have suffered from chemical exposure-related health problems as a result of the dangerous materials used on site. Yet officials are taking extreme care to protect the public:

They asked scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory to come up with the worst-case scenarios of how explosive the chemicals dumped there might have grown over the years—and then they blew up the equivalent amounts of dynamite to test all the safety measures that they would be taking.

Officials say that after the clean-up and waste removal, houses can someday be built on the land.

For more on atomic experiments at Los Alamos, see our story: “New Mexico goes head-to-head with a nuclear juggernaut.”