Workers find truck buried in TA-21

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LANL spokesman says he does not know if it is the truck that was driven back from the Trinity Bomb site in 1945

By John Severance

It's nothing short of urban legend around here.


For years rumors have circulated about a truck, which hauled the original device to the Trinity Bomb site in 1945, and was buried in a landfill at what is now known as TA-21 just off DP Road. Lore has it that the truck was so "hot" with radioactivity that after being driven back to Los Alamos--following the first successful test of an atom bomb--it had to be disposed of in some fashion. 

On  Friday, excavators working the project uncovered a truck buried beneath the westernmost square building on the site, according to Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesperson Fred DeSousa.

“We don’t know if it is THE truck but we did find a truck,” DeSousa said.

A fender was uncovered Thursday afternoon and the workers resumed digging Friday morning.

“They dug all the way around it,” DeSousa said. “There were remnants of a cab, an engine block, a steering column and a frame. It was the front part of an early 1940s Chevrolet military truck.”

After the truck parts were brought to the surface, DeSousa said workers used a piece of radiation monitoring equipment on the shovel arm and did a survey.

“It was pretty clean and it will be disposed of as low-level radiation waste,” he said.

There were hopes last year that the workers might be able to find artifacts that would be nice additions to the Bradbury Museum.

“Definitely not this one,” DeSousa said. “It was pretty mangled.”

In the rush to devise a weapon that would hasten an end to World War II, tons of materials and equipment were simply buried in relatively shallow trenches at sites around Los Alamos. In those days, concerns about the long-term impact on the environment were overruled by the job at hand.

DeSousa said he knows of two other legendary rumors regarding vehicles disposed of at TA-21.

“One was a  truck that collected lab trash,” he said. "And the other was an ambulance."

DeSousa said the truck that was found Friday was in a trench about 18 feet deep. The trench was 100 feet long and 25 feet deep.

Other items found in the trench include some old-style coke bottles, some glass jars, and a calendar from 1946 that was still readable.

“95 percent of it is just dirt,” DeSousa said.

The project’s funding of about $90 million is provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is helping accelerate environmental cleanup across the Department of Energy’s weapons complex.

“This project marks major environmental cleanup progress for the Lab,” said Everett Trollinger, Recovery Act project manager for NNSA’s Los Alamos Site Office.  “We look forward to the day we are able to transfer this land for other uses.”

The landfill is known as Material Disposal Area B. The six-acre site contains a series of trenches used from 1944 to 1948 to dispose of hazardous and non-hazardous waste from Manhattan Project-era labs and buildings.

Ironically, White Sands Missile Range announced new fees Friday to tour the Trinity Site on the restricted missile range.

The tour will cost $25 per passenger vehicle, $100 per bus and $10 per motorcycle.

Range officials say the fees will cover costs of opening the remote site, including maintenance, shuttle bus service, security and portable restrooms.

Trinity Site is where the world's first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945 during World War II.

It's is open to the public only on the first Saturday of April and the first Saturday of October each year.

The next open house will be Oct. 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.