Evacuation Drills….

Los Alamos

Something to ponder as we join the thousand commuters/students/shoppers snarled in traffic at the corner of Diamond and Trinity: What would we do if there is a criticality accident in the Pajarito Road Plutonium Corridor with the wind blowing from the south into the Townsite?  How the heck would we get out of town?

We 20-year locals remember the orderly evacuation in 2000 and 2011 when residents escaped in a few hours with concerned citizens ensured they and their neighbors could get the heck outta town before it exploded in flames.  The Lab and schools were closed.  Everybody had the opportunity to prepare with smart ones packing up before the flames ignited the sky. Ah, good times.  

A criticality accident would not occur when LANL was closed with kids home from school. It would occur during business hours with our 5,045 Hill/White Rock residents jammed streets to get home, while our 9,425 off-Hill employees struggled to off-Hill or get to schools to pick up kids.  

The Townsite has four exits: Diamond/Main Hill, Truck Route, Pajarito, and 501.  I’m thinking the Truck Route would be jammed with off-Hill LANL employees.  Presumably LANL’s Plutonium Corridor would be blocked for emergency response and high radioactivity so there’s a no-go.  I’m thinking most Hill residents would need to evacuate across the Bridge or on West Road (currently under construction) and either through the Caldera or Bandelier, depending on the wind.  If we go via Bandelier, we’re still stuck with traffic backed up to Pajarito Acres. 

I’m also guessing LANL would prefer to have us shelter in place using our duct tape and plastic sheeting left over from the biological threat in 2003, that as far as protection against biological or chemical attack, FEMA states: “…while it isn’t considered guaranteed… [it provides] additional protection to people sheltering in place beyond that provided for by the structure of the house alone.”  Doesn’t say anything about radiation.

Yes, I am aware (because most people I talk to say, “It’ll never happen”) that it’ll never happen, but remember that, as Cerro Grande jumped the Camp May Road to devour Los Alamos Canyon, people in Los Alamos shrugged and said, “I’ll never happen.”  Just because we don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.  

To mitigate that never-happening event, LANL and Los Alamos County must have live evacuation drills as residents did when my family moved here in 1958 and Los Alamos was considered so strategically important that we were a USSR’s top target. We practiced evacuating.  When the siren wailed many moms at home gathered kids and the dog to pile into cars to drive on our designated evacuation route while dads went to their designated shelters to get back to work after the drop.  If the bomb was imminent, we, too, went to our designated shelters.

What will we do nowadays if the never-happens happens? 

Do LANL, the County, and Schools have a plan?  If so, when will we who live and work here know the drill?  And regionally?  The region must know to plan in order to protect itself.  

LANL’s goal is to hire up to 7,200 new employees plus more to replace the retiring ones. This equals possibly 7,200 new families. As many of those who can find housing want to live in Los Alamos/White Rock.  Old people aren’t moving away.  The county is building wherever there’s land (unless, it seems, the land belongs to Smiths).  More population increases risks.

Is there an evacuation plan? What else is NNSA/Congress/TRIAD doing to mitigate impacts that the new nuclear trigger mission has on the County?  

So much of the County’s efforts are to make concessions to the Pit Mission.  We still haven’t completed cleanup from the Project and Cold War.  Seems to me the least NNSA/Congress/TRIAD can do is acknowledge that the never-happen just might.  We need to be prepared.

As you complain about being stuck in traffic, ponder escaping a criticality accident.  And think about all that we and the region are sacrificing to make new cores for weapons that people insist will never be used. NNSA/LANL need to step up and take seriously its promise to “safeguard the safety and health of the public and of the workforce.”  Somebody’s got to be responsible, and it shouldn’t be just us.