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Nevada radioactive waste dump fire closes schools, major highway

22 October 2015

A fire on October 18 at a low-level surface radioactive and toxic waste repository in Nye County, about 115 miles northwest of Las Vegas, resulted in the closure of schools in the town of Beatty and a 140 mile stretch of Nevada’s main north-south highway. The US Ecology waste site fire was allowed to burn itself out over the course of 12 hours.

Stock image
Stock image

In a conference call on October 19, State Fire Marshal Chief Peter Mulvihill said investigators would be taking a close and methodical look at the site "once it is safe to go down there." He said it was too early to know what might have sparked the fire, which took place in one of the site's low-level radioactive waste disposal trenches.

US Highway 95 reopened to traffic 24 hours later after tests conducted from the air and on the ground showed no signs of radioactive contamination from the blaze. All Nye County schools reopened on October 20.

US Ecology officials said they created "an exclusion zone around the facility" at the request of state regulators.

The  site has served as a dump for low-level radioactive waste and other hazardous materials since the early 1960s. From 1983 to 1992, solid low-level radioactive waste primarily from hospitals and university research labs was buried there in earth-covered trenches. US Ecology stopped accepting radioactive waste in 1992, but still takes in about 100,000 tons of hazardous waste per year.

As part of their investigation, state officials said they will be looking at the overall stability of the more than 50-year-old dump. In 2010, the EPA fined US Ecology nearly $500,000 for 18 hazardous waste violations.

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