For more than 70 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory dug thousands of deep and shallow graves across mesas and filled them with the radioactive waste, chemicals, and solvents used to make nuclear weapons.
Workers disposed of the waste in these unlined pits before the widespread contamination that would follow was fully understood or governed by environmental laws. Radioactive particles that live longer than some civilizations mixed freely with the red soil.
Environmental groups and laboratory watchdogs for decades have fought with local and national leaders to suspend the continued toxic waste disposal on-site at Los Alamos. This battle has been most fiercely fought over the 63-acre swath referred to as Technical Area 54, or Material Disposal Area G.
10It is the largest remaining disposal site at the lab, where underground pits dating to the 1950s have resulted in a vapor plume of volatile organic compounds and plutonium-239 has been documented at a depth of 200 feet, creeping toward the regional aquifer below.
By Rebecca Moss