Tuesday, July 16, 2013

ARMY: Fort Bliss bunker possibly contaminated with radiation

FORT BLISS, Texas — Army and federal investigators have detected radiation in a former nuclear weapons bunker at Fort Bliss and are trying to determine if anyone or other buildings on the West Texas post may have been contaminated, officials said Tuesday.

A group of investigators from the Army, experts on nuclear and chemical weapons, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigations Weapons of Mass Destruction team arrived Tuesday to the desert area where the bunker is located. It sits along with other above-ground concrete storage facilities completely buried in dirt. A yellow and red sign warning of radiation danger could be seen on the steel doors of bunker 11507.

Fort Bliss spokesman Maj. Joe Buccino said epoxy paint was applied to the interior of the bunker years ago to contain the radioactivity, but that over the years the paint has become chipped, allowing the radioactive surface to become exposed.

Although further tests will determine the nature of the radiation Buccino said it originated most likely from uranium of the “old unsealed nuclear weapons” that used to be handled in the bunker.

Buccino said the levels of radiation are low and that the contamination is contained to the immediate area where the bunker is located. He said the closest residential neighborhood is about one mile away and that area residents are safe.

The epoxy paint chips “could have come loose and if you ingest them that’s the concern, they couldn’t have come loose and then gone into the El Paso community, they don’t travel that far”.

However, he said, they will know more once the Army Environmental Command finishes its report. He did not offer an estimate as to when that report might be finished but hinted that “the investigation is in its infancy.”

Rifles and other weaponry have been stored in the bunker since 2003, but Buccino said it’s unlikely that soldiers who used the equipment are contaminated as a result. About 30 people who regularly work in the bunker taking inventory and conducting other tasks were being tested for radioactive contamination.

All personnel that have been working in the bunker, about 30 people, including contractors, civilian employees and service members have been notified of the risk. It was not immediately clear how many people over the past decade were exposed to the radiation.

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