FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) Army investigators have detected radiation in a former nuclear weapons bunker at Fort Bliss and are trying to determine if anyone on the West Texas post may have been contaminated, officials said Tuesday.
Post leaders said an investigation that began about two months ago revealed levels of radiation in the igloo-like bunker that was used for the assembly and storage of nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s.
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.
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 1.5 miles away and that area residents are safe.
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.
"There is some low level of contamination that could be transferred to personnel but not to the people who received the weapons," he said.
The investigation was triggered by a call from a man who worked at Fort Bliss in the 1950s when it was operated by the Air Force. He told post leaders that contaminated residue such as rags and other items had been buried there and expressed concerns that any new housing at the sprawling base could dig up the contamination.
It's not clear where the residue, apparently long forgotten, is buried.
Officials did not identify the former worker who contacted officials about two months ago. But they said he was likely exposed to the contaminated residue. The man, now in his 70s, is not showing symptoms of exposure, they said.