Los Alamos National Lab returning to normal after brush with wildfire

Los Alamos National Lab returning to normal after brush with wildfire

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

May 30—Los Alamos National Laboratory employees are still taking stock of the damage caused by a wildfire that terrorized parts of New Mexico for more than two weeks this month.

Roughly 90 percent of the lab has reopened, said Jim Danneskiold, a spokesman for the lab.

Officials began inspecting buildings on May 16 to assess damage and determine how and when to re-enter the lab they were forced to abandon on May 4. They hope to re-enter the radiography building today or later this week, Danneskiold said.

Buildings in the southwest portion of the lab campus remain closed due to electrical problems, he said. Scientists perform experiments with highly explosive materials in those 'firing sites,' he said.

The fire did not spare the Energy Department's nuclear weapons lab.

A polymer researcher lost eight years worth of data when a shed containing his portable PC and backup disks burned, Danneskiold said. The lab lost more than $1 million in delicate laser spectroscopy equipment, which is used in the study of electromagnetic radiation, to damage from heat, ash and soot, he said. Although the building housing the equipment didn't burn, it got hot enough to melt all the electrical wiring on one side of the structure, he said.

None of the lab's main computers went down or suffered during the inferno and subsequent evacuation, Danneskiold said. The lab is home to several of the world's top supercomputers: The ASCI Blue Mountain, ranked third fastest in the world; Nirvana Blue, which scientists use to model wildfires; a Cray/SGI T3D MC512-8, ranked 254th; and Avalon, the lab's homemade Beowulf cluster.

As of last week, the lab had written off 32 units as total losses, Danneskiold said. Destroyed buildings include open sheds, warehouses, truck trailers and portable buildings, he said. Four other units were seriously damaged in the blaze.

All but one of the original Manhattan Project buildings burned, he said.

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