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The BBC's David Willis
"Anti-nuclear groups have raised the possibility of particles being swept into the air"
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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
'No radiation' in Hanford blaze
A plane drops chemical fire retardant on the facility
Firefighters took to the air to protect the complex
United States Energy Secretary Bill Richardson says there is no risk of contamination after a forest fire raged near the country's biggest nuclear waste site.

Mr Richardson says he is satisfied "there are no radiation releases" from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State.

He said that the fire was under control and firefighting efforts were in a "mop-up" phase.

There is no active fire at this time... We believe the area is now safe

Bill Richardson
However, correspondents say there are fears that radioactive smoke could have gone into the atmosphere.

The fire was sparked off on Tuesday by a road accident between a car and a truck near the Hanford facility.

Thousands of people fled as the fire spread rapidly over 80,000 hectares (190,000 acres) and destroyed more than 70 buildings, including 20 homes.

Washington state map

Fifteen people were injured, one seriously.

The blaze burned across three old radioactive waste disposal sites, but initial testing has shown no increase in radiation levels.

Some 750 firefighters and five aircraft were deployed to fight the fire.

No immediate threat

Though the Hanford nuclear complex appeared to be under no immediate threat, the authorities removed classified information from the site. The facility's 8,000 workers were asked to stay at home.

Hanford facts
Established in 1940s for the Manhattan Project
Processed plutonium for nuclear weapons
Site contains the US's highest volume of radioactive waste
Washington State Governor Gary Locke had earlier declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard.

The nuclear reservation was set up during the 1940s to process plutonium for the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bombs used against Japan in World War II.

The area has a long history of chronic health problems, linked by many local residents to radioactive contamination.

The incident comes shortly after another wild fire, which threatened the most important US nuclear facility at Los Alamos in May.

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See also:

14 May 00 | Americas
Historic atomic site destroyed
13 May 00 | Americas
US forest fires slacken
13 May 00 | Americas
Fires spread in US
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