Safeguarding Los Alamos

by Brian Fortner, Contributing Editor; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Reston, VA.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 2000, Vol. 70, Issue 10, Pg. 58-63

Document Type: Feature article


A forest fire that burned 48,000 ac (19,500 ha) around the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico, in May 2000, created another problem for one of the nation's most critical nuclear weapons research facilities�flooding. Runoff from the burned watershed was expected to increase between 10 and 100 percent. To mitigate the potential of flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a team of engineers and contractors built a 70 ft (21 m) high, roller-compacted, concrete flood retention structure above an operating nuclear research reactor, used shotcrete and articulated concrete mats to harden an existing reservoir dam, strengthened an earth embankment to hold back flood flows, and hardened roadways that bisected ridgelines near the burn area to prevent washouts. The team also built low-head weirs to contain contaminated soil that could wash down from the canyons and possibly down from laboratory property and enlarged a major culvert by jacking an 86 in. (2,150 mm) diameter steel pipe more than 430 ft (130 m) through a roadway embankment. The effort was completed in less than eight weeks�before the rainy season�at a cost of more than $15 million.

Subject Headings: Floods | Concrete dams | Steel pipes | Soil properties | Soil pollution | Highways and roads | Embankment dams

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