NNSA begins second phase of Source Physics Experiment in Nevada


The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) recently completed the first underground, chemical explosion in the second phase of the Source Physics Experiment (SPE), which is designed to advance the United States’ ability to detect underground nuclear explosions.

The SPE is a multiphase campaign using buried explosives to generate seismic and acoustic signatures similar to those emitted by an underground nuclear detonation.

“The data collected from the SPE trials strengthen our national security by advancing technical solutions for treaty monitoring and improving computer simulation methods used to evaluate potential explosions anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Brent K. Park, NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation.

Research teams from Nevada National Security Site, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of Nevada-Reno collected information and measured the unique signatures generated by this experiment. Scientists used high-resolution accelerometers, seismometers, infrasound sensors, and high-speed video to collect data.

This second phase of the SPE campaign is expected to conclude by April 2019. A total of four experiments are planned as part of this phase. Seismic data collected from the SPE experiments are made available to researchers around the globe for analysis via the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology website at http://www.iris.edu/hq/.

NNSS hosts 25th Annual Aviation Safety Workshop

aviation workshop Sedan Crater
Workshop participants visit the Site's iconic Sedan Crater.

“This is going to be the best year yet.”

So said Department of Energy (DOE) Aviation Program Analyst Patricia Hagerty of the DOE Office of Aviation Management’s 25th Annual Aviation Safety Workshop, held for the first time ever in Las Vegas.

More than 50 members of the DOE aviation community flew in from across the country and gathered at the Nevada National Security Site’s (NNSS) North Las Vegas Facility to discuss the takeoff for this year’s workshop.

Proud to host the workshop, Nevada Field Office Manager Steven Lawrence discussed what makes the NNSS the ideal place for it.

“What’s most unique about Nevada and the Nevada National Security Site is the fact that we have more than 1,350 square miles of our own airspace,” Lawrence said.

In addition to helping attendees meet their annual training requirements, the workshop is also an opportunity to discuss safety, new policies and directions – as well as connect or reconnect with friends and fellow workers.

“We don’t see each other face to face,” said Mission Support and Test Services Aviation Safety Administrator Bob Ziehm, “so this puts us all in the same room.”

The recent three-day workshop included a tour of the Remote Sensing Laboratory-Nellis and the NNSS, along with a visit to the Desert Rock Airstrip.

aviation workshop awards
Donnie Schuessler (left) accepts the NNSS' award during the workshop.

The workshop concluded with an awards ceremony, where the NNSS received the 2017 U.S. DOE Jeff Snow Aviation Program Memorial Award. (Awards presented in 2018 recognize accomplishments from 2017.) This award was given because the NNSS “distinguished themselves in 2017 in their primary mission to provide aerial platforms for radiological sensing, aerial multi-spectral measurement and other homeland-defense-related activities for other Federal, State and City governments.”

Other awards given included: the U.S. Department of Energy Aviation Management/Safety Professional Commercial Aviation Services Program, awarded to Gus Fadel, Office of Science Oak Ridge Office; the U.S. Department of Energy John Cooley Aviation Operations/Support Professional Memorial Award, given to Mark Arnholt, director of operations – pilot, Aviation Operations Division Office of Secure Transportation and the National Nuclear Security Administration; the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy Aviation Safety Professional, given to H. Scott Spindler, safety officer – pilot, Aviation Operations Division, Office of Secure Transportation and the National Nuclear Security Administration; and the Aviation Management Professional Award, given to William “Bill” Duncan, supervisory aircraft pilot – Director of Operations, Bonneville Aircraft Services, Bonneville Power Administration.

NNSA Defense Programs Office of Recapitalization tours NNSS to see new mission capabilities

NNSA visit
NNSA’s Robin Noyes (center) and her team, Defense Programs Office of Recapitalization, and the NNSS cadre toured the U1a Complex before heading to Area 6.

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) headquarters’ personnel, led by Robin Noyes of the Defense Programs Office of Recapitalization, recently visited Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) facilities in Southern Nevada, as part of the Capabilities Based Investments (CBI) Program Review for the NNSS. The CBI Program has helped the Site in numerous ways, and the NNSS wanted to show how the mission is benefitting from their investments.

“The CBI Program funds projects across the NNSS and its outlying locations. This is important because the CBI Program recapitalizes mission capabilities supporting national objectives set forth by the NNSA for present and future investments, and is critical to the success of our mission for national security,” says Dimitry Molodyko, Mission Facilities manager of Enterprise Infrastructure Programs (EIP). The EIP, a division within the NNSS’ Program Integration directorate, works with the Nevada Enterprise to modernize and enhance the NNSS infrastructure to meet future national security challenges.

The first day of the NNSS tour included the U1a Complex, Building 6-922 (former home to the Atlas Machine) in Area 6, the Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) Facility in Area 11, and the Device Assembly Facility. NNSS subject-matter experts were able to demonstrate progress across a range of projects that NNSA has funded, including the Atlas Transition Project in Building 6-922. The group gained further details of the Atlas machine’s removal to make room for the next mission, Scorpius, an ECSE (Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments) project whose components will be fabricated at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The components for Scorpius will be transported to Building 6-922 in 2021, where they will be inspected, tested and configured for assembly underground at the U1a Complex. Right now, the NNSS is working with LANL, Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Scorpius’ engineering design.

NNSA visit
Test and Experiment Management Principal Engineer Nathan Sipe (left), with James Gatling, gives Robin an up-close introduction to the DPF facility in Area 11.

“The purpose of the Scorpius ECSE machine is to take pictures of a subcritical experiment as it is imploding. Scorpius is designed to be different from existing machines at U1a, in that it would be more powerful, creating X-rays for a camera sitting off to the side to record the implosion. These pictures will help validate stockpile, reliability and computer modeling codes without performing underground nuclear tests,” says James Gatling, distinguished engineer for NNSA Programs.

On the second day, the Program Review included briefings and additional tours of the Standards & Calibration Laboratory and the A-1 Machine Shop at the North Las Vegas Facility, where recent NNSA investments have significantly increased mission capability.

NNSA is also supporting the NNSS mining capabilities for the U1a Complex Enhancements Project and is expected to fund a follow-on Building 6-922 reconfiguration support project.


The Atlas Transition disassembly project was complex, but that is nothing new to the Site’s employees (some of whom are pictured below) who are responsible for such work. Their experience and ability to adapt the project execution plan as the disassembly progressed allowed them to complete the project well ahead of schedule and under budget.

Atlas team
Ronnie Owens, Tyrel Otteson, Mark Krubsak, Don Western, Kyle Stucki, Justin Savarro, Daniel Guerrero and Mark Hansen
Atlas team
Mike Ponce, Aaron Bartholomew, Nick Carmona, Josh Sargent, Royal Moulton, Damon Plant, Patrick Phan, Jason Meshell and David Soto. Not pictured: Stacy McReynolds.
Atlas before
Atlas machine in Building 6-922 before disassembly in the 40-foot high bay (March 2018)
Atlas after
After disassembly (May 2018)

AMS conducts joint surveys, workshop with Norway

AMS Norway
Discussion on the GPS antenna location.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Aerial Measuring System (AMS) conducted a series of joint surveys with the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA). The goal was to compare the responses of the two agencies’ aerial radiation detection systems and data processing techniques. These surveys were flown over selected natural background areas near Las Vegas and varied radioactive surface contamination areas at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) including Areas 3, 8, 11 and 30. For the comparison, both teams used their agencies’ deployable aerial radiation detections systems. Both systems were flown on the DOE Bell 412 helicopter with AMS' in externally mounted dedicated pods and the NRPA system inside, mounted to the helicopter floor.

This was AMS' sixth joint survey with international partners. The first was conducted in 2007 with the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission Helinuc. Subsequent surveys have been conducted with the British Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in 2010, Israel Atomic Energy Commission in 2013, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) in 2014, and another French team from the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) in 2017.

In parallel to the joint survey, AMS hosted an advanced data analysis workshop for selected countries or organizations: Norwegian NRPA, French IRSN, Taiwan Atomic Energy Council and the Canadian NRCan, with observers from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Response and Assistance Network (RANET). Workshop participants performed analysis of data collected during joint surveys under the supervision of AMS data scientists using AMS techniques. The data workshop was of special interest to RANET personnel, as it provided an opportunity for a group of international subject-matter experts to work together analyzing and producing joint products, much like what would be necessary in the event of an international request for assistance rendered by the IAEA.

AMS Norway
Participants in the advanced data workshop hard at work.

Both events were sponsored by the NNSA Office of Nuclear Incident Policy and Cooperation to help improve and validate AMS methodology. According to the Office's director, Ann Heinrich, engaging international partners has tremendous return on investment in supporting long-term national security goals, establishing strategic relationships with regard to radiological/nuclear terrorism threats, enhancement of technical tools, policy development, and practical approaches to strengthen U.S. (and global) preparedness.

The data collected by each team will be included in the final report written by NRPA, with the first discussion of results scheduled for June 2018 during the 6th AMS International Technical Exchange in Las Vegas, and final report discussion scheduled for spring 2019, with the U.S. delegation visit to NRPA.

Roadrunners Make the NNSS Their Home

A roadrunner spotted at the NNSS.

Springtime is a good time to find a safe, cozy home for your new family. Especially if you’re a roadrunner at the NNSS.

In May, some workers at the Site's Device Assembly Facility (DAF) noticed that a family of roadrunners was nesting in a forklift that serves the building. Because the NNSS community cherishes the wildlife that call the Site home, and personnel have been trained to not disturb active nests, they left the nesting birds alone.

“We have ways of protecting the species while getting the work done,” says Derek Hall, an NNSS senior scientist in Ecological and Environmental Monitoring.

Roadrunners typically nest about three to nine feet above ground, from spring to mid-summer. What better place than a metal behemoth like a forklift?

Roadrunners not only like the DAF, they’re hanging out elsewhere—lately, at the U1a Complex. Hall also mentioned that in Area 5, one of the operators, during his routine inspection of equipment, found two roadrunner eggs in a lift’s engine compartment at the Radiological Waste Management Complex (RWMC).

roadrunner nest
One of the nests found in Area 5.

Hall says that he’s seen more roadrunners the last couple of years – about eight – at the Site than in his 20 years there, from Mercury to Rainier Mesa. Last year, two nests were found near the RWMC: one halfway up a ladder and another in a pile of pallets about three to five feet off the ground.

Roadrunners have adapted techniques to kill and eat rattlesnakes. Seems these roadrunners have the Site's back and know the NNSS employees have theirs as well.