A wildfire burning near the desert birthplace of the atomic bomb advanced on the Los Alamos laboratory and thousands of outdoor drums of plutonium-contaminated waste as authorities stepped up efforts to protect the site from flames and monitor the air for radiation.
Officials at the premier nuclear weapons lab in the US gave assurances that dangerous materials were safely stored and capable of withstanding flames from the 93sqm fire, which was yards from the grounds. A small patch of land on the laboratory grounds caught fire on Monday before firefighters put it out.
The fire has forced the evacuation of Los Alamos, population 11,000, cast giant plumes of smoke over the region and raised fears among nuclear watchdogs that it will reach as many as 30,000 208-litre drums of plutonium-contaminated waste. Officials also stood ready to coat the drums with fire-resistant foam if the blaze got too close.