BY: T.S. Last / Journal North Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal Feb, 9, 2021
SANTA FE – A recently released report by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General suggests that managers at Los Alamos National Laboratory did not take wildland fire prevention seriously enough, despite two catastrophic wildland fires in the past 20 years that threatened the lab and the town, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
“Our review found that activities designed to reduce the impact from wildland fire had not been fully implemented at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in accordance with site plans,” says the opening sentence of a 14-page memo from the Inspector General’s office dated Feb. 1.
What’s worse, the report says, some plans were never drafted, and some policies put into place after the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 and the Las Conchas Fire in 2011 were not being followed.
It adds that lab managers haven’t developed a “comprehensive risk-based approach to wildland fire management,” as required by the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy. The report also describes a “lack of formality.”
“Specifically, the contractor’s Wildland Fire Plan lacked requirements for documenting wildland fire management activities, and responsibilities for implementation were not well defined,” the report says.
The contractor referred to is Triad National Security LLC, which in November 2019 took over management of the lab, which is tasked with developing and manufacturing parts for nuclear weapons. Previously, Los Alamos National Security LLC had held the management contract since 2006.
It appears evident that some of the problems identified in the report predate Triad’s involvement.
The report says that there are about 2,000 structures, including 13 nuclear facilities, with an estimated value of $14.2 billion on approximately 23,000 acres of lab property.
It notes that the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire, which burned 43,000 acres, including about 7,500 acres of LANL property, resulting in $331 million in damage to the lab alone. That does not include an estimated $15 million in lost productivity per week during a 15-day shutdown and recovery period.
The Cerro Grande Fire was a “crown fire” that burned through the tree canopy and spread quickly, and the report has an entire section on mitigation of crown fires.
Despite recognition of the risk, mitigation measures to reduce the risk of crown fires had not been performed.