Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2013
It took a tip from a retired member of the Air Force to alert the Army that one of its bunkers at Fort Bliss, Texas is contaminated with radioactive debris. The Air Force used “Bunker 11507” for the assembly and storage of nuclear weapons during the Cold War and reportedly buried contaminated rags and other residue in the area. When it transferred the facility to the Army in 1966, the Air Force did not share information about the radiation risk or the location of the buried waste.
In May, the unnamed veteran contacted authorities with concerns about an Army plan to build new housing units, saying he had worked with unsealed nuclear weapons in the area during his career at Ft. Bliss on the Texas/New Mexico border. On July 16, federal officials announced that they were investigating the allegations and the possible effect that radiation exposures have had on people who regularly work in the bunker. Alpha and beta particles have been detected on the floor of the bunker, although contamination levels are still unclear. The Air Force had initially sealed the interior of the building with epoxy paint to contain the radioactivity, but the paint has since chipped off the walls.
In addition to the personnel who work in the bunker, soldiers who used the weapons stored there could have been exposed. As a Ft. Bliss official told KFOX TV, “We don’t know the scope of the issue, we don’t know, again, if it’s nothing or fairly substantial… We are being cautious.”
The investigation is expected to take several months and will rely on old documents and anecdotal evidence from former workers to uncover the locations of the buried radioactive waste. Ft. Bliss spans an area of more than 1,700 square miles and is home to 32,000 soldiers and 11,000 civilian employees. Because of the base’s immense size, authorities say they can only search for contamination in areas where they have been alerted to a potential issue. — Washington Post, July 16; RT News, July 17; Associated Press, July 19; El Paso Times, July 21, 2013 —ASP