Beneath the surface of a St. Louis-area landfill lurk two things that should never meet: a slow-burning fire and a cache of Cold War-era nuclear waste, separated by no more than 1,200 feet.

As AP reports,

Government officials have quietly adopted an emergency plan in case the smoldering embers ever reach the waste, a potentially “catastrophic event” that could send up a plume of radioactive smoke over a densely populated area near the city’s main airport.

Although the fire at Bridgeton Landfill has been burning since at least 2010, the plan for a worst-case scenario was developed only a year ago and never publicized until this week, when St. Louis radio station KMOX first obtained a copy. But don’t panic, as officials say it is “contained”…

 County Executive Steve Stenger cautioned that the plan “is not an indication of any imminent danger.” “It is county government’s responsibility to protect the health, safety and well-being of all St. Louis County residents,” he said in a statement.

Landfill operator Republic Services downplayed any risk. Interceptor wells — underground structures that capture below-surface gasses — and other safeguards are in place to keep the fire and the nuclear waste separate. “County officials and emergency managers have an obligation to plan for various scenarios, even very remote ones,” landfill spokesman Russ Knocke said in a statement. The landfill “is safe and intensively monitored.”

The cause of the fire is unknown. For years, the most immediate concern has been an odor created by the smoldering. Republic Services is spending millions of dollars to ease or eliminate the smell by removing concrete pipes that allowed the odor to escape and installing plastic caps over parts of the landfill. CONTINUE