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Suspicious item’ causes scare at atomic testing site

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 | 8:34 p.m.

Low-level radioactive waste

A worker walks by containers of mixed waste in the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site of the Nevada National Security Site (N2S2), previously the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas on Feb. 1, 2011. Launch slideshow »

A suspicious, but nonthreatening item caused a scare at the Nevada National Security Site late Tuesday afternoon.

Local and federal law enforcement officials, site security officers and fire and rescue crews were dispatched to the site about 4 p.m. to investigate a "suspicious item." Officials did not give any details about the object late Tuesday night, but called the situation a "security incident."

The suspicious item was found in Area 6, located in the central region of the site about 75 miles northwest of Las Vegas, near Mercury, said Nevada National Security Site spokeswoman Kelly Snyder. The object was found outside of the security fence surrounding the device assembly facility, which was built in the mid-1980s to support underground nuclear testing.

Officials alerted the media of a "security incident" at about 5:30 p.m. By about 8 p.m., officials said the item was "non-threatening" and posed no security or safety risk. All of the test site employees are accounted for, and there have been no injuries, officials said.

The device assembly facility is a group of more than 30 steel-reinforced concrete buildings that is connected by a rectangular hallway. The entire complex, which is covered by compacted earth, spans an area of 100,000 square feet, according to the Department of Energy website.

The Nevada National Security Site, known formerly as the Nevada Test Site, is an extensive outdoor laboratory and national experiment center located on federal land the size of Rhode Island, according to the Department of Energy website. The site holds some of the nation's stockpile of damaged nuclear weapons and low-level radioactive waste.

The site was established during the Cold War to test nuclear bombs. The nation's first nuclear weapons test was conducted at the site 62 years ago on Jan. 27, 1951.

Although widespread nuclear testing has ceased, underground tests still occur on the site to test the effectiveness of the nation's nuclear weapons. Most recently, scientists successfully detonated a tiny sample of plutonium bomb material on Dec. 7.

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