Emergency Responders Test Skills with Earthquake, Chemical Spill Exercise
A simulated 30-second earthquake, a chemical spill and a helicopter rescue were just some of the events that were conducted during the recent Nevada National Security Site’s full scale exercise, Asylum Road-17.
Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, Mercy Air, Nye County and Clark County joined NNSS Fire and Rescue as some of the many agencies who responded in real time to these mock scenarios.
The biannual drill simulates real-life emergencies that could occur at the NNSS. This year’s exercise was the biggest yet, with over 750 participants.
The Site excelled in its emergency action methods of first response, emergency action coordination, public information efforts and its general employee protective actions. First responders worked to mitigate a staged hazardous chemcal spill, to break rock and rescue mock victims from earthquake rubble, and to evacuate employees of Mercury in a test of the site's emergency evacuation procedures.
The NNSS conducts smaller exercises and drills at its facilities throughout the year as part of a robust emergency planning and preparedness effort.
Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board Diversity Drives Success
The Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board (NSSAB) is comprised of a diverse group of members representing communities surrounding the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). These Nevada residents volunteer their time to attend meetings throughout the year, observe important activities both on and off the NNSS, and provide recommendations to the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program.
The 20 board members represent 10 communities with populations ranging from 268 (Goldfield in Esmeralda County) to 1.3 million (metropolitan Las Vegas in Clark County). Current NSSAB members come from a wide variety of backgrounds and fields of expertise, but they all have one thing in common: they care about their communities and the work being done to protect the public and the environment from the effects of historic nuclear testing.
The diverse backgrounds of current NSSAB members contribute to the success of the board’s purpose of providing meaningful advice and recommendations from a community perspective to the EM Nevada Program. For example, vice chair Frank Bonesteel has a background in the transportation industry. DOE Staff often brief the NSSAB on the transportation of low-level and mixed low-level waste to the NNSS.
Board member Saia Amina Anderson, of Beatty in Nye County, is chair of the Beatty Water and Sanitation District; board member Michael J. Anderson is the Goldfield Fire Chief. Experience like Amina Anderson’s and Michael Anderson’s is valuable in providing an informed community perspective to DOE staff.
It is the EM Nevada Program’s responsibility to ensure board members have a thorough understanding of the matters on which they provide recommendations. Educational sessions are often held prior to full board meetings, so that members can become familiar with the science, history, and any other relevant information behind EM Nevada Program activities. Subject matter experts also present briefings of work plan items so that the NSSAB is able to make educated, informed recommendations. Before NSSAB members make a recommendation, NSSAB liaisons will offer insights from the perspective of the institutions they represent.
NSSAB liaisons are non-voting members of the NSSAB who participate in discussions and contribute institutional views. Current liaisons represent Clark County, the Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations (CGTO), Esmeralda County Commission, Nye County Commission, Nye County Emergency Management, Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office, the State of Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the U.S. National Park Service, and White Pine County Commission.
The NSSAB is one of eight (8) site-specific advisory boards (SSABs) organized to provide Department of Energy officials with information, advice and recommendations concerning EM activities at various sites across the United States. EM SSAB chairs and vice chairs attend meetings twice a year to discuss recommendations on a national level. NSSAB members Steve Rosenbaum, chair, and Frank Bonesteel, vice-chair, will attend the 2017 EM SSAB National Chairs Meeting in Paducah, Kentucky this May. This group meeting provides the NSSAB a broader perspective on challenges and unifying issues experienced at other sites as well as providing EM HQ recommendations that impact all 8 boards.
Richard Arnold believes the EM Nevada Program has done an exemplary job in supporting the SSAB in Nevada. Arnold is an NSSAB liaison in his role as spokesperson for the CGTO. “The approach adopted by the NSSAB and the EM Nevada Program promotes collaboration and maximizes productive discussions. NSSAB members and appointed liaisons devote significant time to preparing reports and updates to share at each meeting. I believe our accomplishments and diversity can serve as an example for other DOE site specific advisory boards,” Arnold said.
The collaborative relationships between NSSAB members, liaisons and the institutions they represent, and the EM Nevada Program staff benefits the public by ensuring that a wide range of concerns are taken into account before strategies to address contamination from historic nuclear testing are put into place. Because of the excellent representation of Nevada stakeholders provided by the NSSAB, the EM Nevada Program is able to make decisions with the confidence that stakeholder interests have been carefully considered.
“The diverse makeup of the NSSAB and each member’s unique input has led to thoughtful, well-researched, and useful recommendations to the EM Nevada Program,” said Kelly Snyder, Public Affairs manager, EM Nevada Program and Deputy Designated Federal Officer for the NSSAB.
Interested in learning more about the NSSAB? The next full board meeting is on June 21st, 2017 at 4pm at the Frank H. Rogers Building, 755 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89119. Prior to the meeting will be an educational session starting at 3pm.
Analyze This: Behind the Scenes at the Nevada Field Office with Milinka Watson-Garrett
Milinka Watson-Garrett brings a lot to the table. As manager of Analytical Services at Navarro, Watson-Garrett is the driving force behind the group’s important work. The Analytical Services team plays a significant role behind the scenes of Environmental Restoration activities at the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program by managing and validating data generated by groundwater and soil sampling.
Watson-Garrett has been in her current role as Analytical Services Manager since 2008, but her journey supporting the EM Nevada Program began in 1999 when she worked as a data validator. Raised in Las Vegas, NV, after completing high school she pursued a career with the U.S. Air Force serving ten years, seven of which she was a weather observer/forecaster. After her time in the service, Watson-Garrett completed her studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA and returned to Las Vegas. Before joining the NNSS team, she worked as a chemist in a local analytical lab and spent four years on the Yucca Mountain Project working in data qualification.
This experience made her a perfect fit to support the EM Nevada Program missions. Throughout her career with Navarro, she has been consistently methodological in her approach to data organization and management, and is constantly seeking innovative ways to efficiently validate and share data.
Watson-Garrett is currently overseeing the Electronic Data Capture project, a system for collecting sampling data. To support the project, Watson-Garrett recruited a team of subject matter experts to work closely with computer programmers from Navarro’s Information Technology department. The goal of the project, which is in the final stages of testing, is to design a modern approach to capturing field data. Once the new process launches, field technicians will be able to enter sample collection logs and chain of custody records directly into the Electronic Data Capture application via laptop at the collection site, which then allows data validators to access the entries immediately. This simplifies the prior process, which was done by hand on paper, as well as eliminates transit time and the need for data entry support. “I am grateful that we were able to have the support, knowledge, and professionalism of Navarro’s computer programmers. Their ability to interpret and clarify our needs, and turn our ideas into reality was remarkable,” Watson-Garrett said.
Another task the Analytical Services team takes on is assembling and managing data packages to prepare them for the Records Management department. In the past, analytical data packages were stacks of hardcopies that sometimes threatened to overtake analysts’ workstations. Watson-Garrett and her team worked with analytical labs and other project participants to streamline the data package process and go completely paperless. Watson-Garrett and her team were excited to leave the “Dark Ages” of paper data packages behind, as the new process saves valuable time, space, and paper for all parties involved.
Navarro’s Analytical Services and their trusted, proven ability to perform data validation and manage resultant chemistry data for the NNSS are vital to the EM Nevada Program because federal employees make environmental and waste management decisions based on that data in order to address contamination resulting from historic nuclear testing. Watson-Garrett ensures the work done by her team adheres to federal guidelines and that all data collected is scientifically valid, sound and defensible. Navarro employees like Watson-Garrett are indispensable contributors to EM Nevada Program missions.
High-Speed Success: JASPER Gun Hits the Mark with Milestone 150th Shot
The Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research (JASPER) facility successfully completed its milestone 150th shot this week. The experiment also marked the 80th and final shot for Project Manager Trenton Otteson, who will move back to the subcritical experiments working on the Red Sage series at the U1a underground facility.
Scientists from the National Laboratories use JASPER to conduct experiments, or “shots,” that subject materials to extreme pressures and temperatures to see how they react. The data is used to certify the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
“Shot 150 was a major success for several reasons, the biggest was the need for one last Light Calibration for the new 7-channel Pyrometry Diagnostic to validate the quality and configuration of the data ahead of an upcoming sound speed shot which is a temperature measurement. This was all being executed without our normal ballistics operator, who is highly valuable in collecting in-flight X-rays of the projectile in flight,” Otteson said.
“We only get one shot at this, so we delayed the shot by two weeks to exercise the system utilizing a qualified backup operator and training a new ballistics operator at the same time. We took a little more time, but found a solution that was much more than just a Band-Aid for the problem. You would have never known that there was a new operator on that shot, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Principal Investigator Pat Ambrose was very pleased with the data," Otteson added. “That's my job to solve problems and find a path forward as a team and JASPER benefits in the long run for taking the actions that we did.”
The ability to turn around numerous experiments in the same year, and the level of data derived from the work, has helped to enhance the facility’s reputation as a premiere experimental location, Otteson said.
For Shot 150, LLNL scientists were hoping to achieve a set velocity of 3.3 kilometers per second, something that took the experts at JASPER some time to figure out. But for the experiment, Otteson said the gun reached a velocity of 3.33 kilometers, exceeding scientists’ expectations.
“We had a 100 percent data return, which makes this a very successful experiment for the JASPER gun,” Otteson said.
RSL Pilots Cut Their Teeth on Pumpkins; Wildland Fire Training Preps F&R for Ominous Fire Season at NNSS
Another wildland fire season is upon us, and nowhere is the threat of a wildland fire more prevalent than the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). The 1,360 square miles of NNSS have high terrain, thick vegetation in more rugged, inaccessible areas, and a consistent threat of lightning strikes from erratic weather that highlights the summer months.
It makes sense, then, that the NNSS Fire and Rescue (F&R) department would rely on the quick-responding expertise of some of our own airborne assets, namely the pilots of the Aerial Measuring System program at the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL). When RSL pilots stationed at Nellis Air Force Base aren’t traveling the country conducting aerial survey missions, they are on standby to assist F&R with water drops on potential fires anywhere on the NNSS.
Last week, those pilots underwent extensive flight training to get ready, mastering skills in dipping water from a large bladder, or pumpkin, positioned at Desert Rock Airstrip, and dumping 144 gallons on random targets called in by first responders positioned around far corners of the runway.
“The training at Desert Rock went extremely well,” says Capt. Bill Nixon, lead member of the F&R helitack crew that worked with the Bell 412 helicopter, coined “Energy 11.” “The pilots are mastering new techniques for attaching and detaching the bucket, and they conducted multiple dips and drops, which included drops on slope targets.”
The RSL support is part of a Memorandum of Understanding with F&R that also includes aerial observation during wildland fire events. These observation flights provide situational awareness that is necessary for effectively positioning resources and planning tactics. The helicopter also can be used to haul crews and equipment, dropping them in the vicinity of a fire. Early control of a wildfire avoids both expending significant resources to manage a later stage fire and also can minimize or eliminate fire damage to facilities and infrastructure.
The pumpkin water drop operations can be one of the most challenging aspects of wildland fire support. Pilots must position the Bell 412 directly over the large bladder, which from the air seems quite small, dip the bucket into the water, and withdraw it straight up into the air as to not spill or topple the bucket. The pilots then fly out to a specific location as designated by firefighters on the ground.
Although a real, raging fire might be visible from the air, locating a specific target for ground support can be harder. Ground crews vector in the helicopter using a radio, calling out clock-like coordinates, and requesting drops sometimes within less than 100 yards of their position.
During last week’s training, pilots worked to perfection, sometimes missing their marks, but always returning to give it another shot. By the end of the 3-day training cycle, all four RSL pilots were scoring direct hits with skill and precision.
When the RSL aircrews participate in wildland firefighting support, they not only gain flight proficiency, but also valuable experience working within the command structure established to manage the fire emergency. Their integration into the planning, tactics, operations, and effectiveness evaluation provides actual experiences that reinforce and cement the skills learned during drills and exercises involving radiological emergency response.
Defenders of Data: Behind the Scenes at the Nevada Field Office
Responsible accomplishment of the Environmental Management mission depends on large quantities of accurate, defensible, and easily-accessible data stored using methods that meet federal requirements. That’s what the Navarro Data Management team provides to the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management mission at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). The Data Management team works to integrate data from various organizations on multiple platforms to present the best available data to the scientists, regulators and managers who rely on it for making sound, risk-informed decisions on cleanup.
This includes the support the Data Management team provides to the NNSS groundwater characterization program. NNSS scientists continuously collect and analyze groundwater samples in order to track contaminant migration and ensure the safety of public water supplies in communities near the NNSS, with the end goal of developing a long-term monitoring network. To this end, dozens of wells are routinely sampled to gather information on groundwater flow patterns and contaminant movement. The Data Management team ensures the preservation of past data from the decades-long program, as well as manages the new data constantly generated by ongoing research. The team maintains databases that contain the location, geology, construction, names, and histories of NNSS groundwater wells, along with the analytical chemistry associated with samples taken. They also use Geographic Information Systems to graphically depict the data in an easily interpreted format, tailored to the needs of the requestor.
As the groundwater characterization program moves toward its goal of a network of long-term monitoring systems and closes out its investigations, data systems maintained by the Data Management team will support analysis and distribution of results long into the future.
Electronic Information Storage and Delivery Systems maintained by the Data Management team also help organize and distribute high volumes of data to support other Environmental Management missions, including soil and industrial sites cleanup. These storage and delivery systems contain data on soil and groundwater samples, geospatial data such as roads and aerial imagery, and radiological surveys of the NNSS. Having a one-stop-shop database which can be accessed across multiple organizations and departments enables NNSS scientists and other workers to easily share and interpret data. “These systems manage the full life cycle of data, from collection, to distribution, to archiving, so they require a good amount of teamwork to create and maintain, not just within the Department of Energy but between partner organizations such as the United States Geological Survey and the Desert Research Institute,” said Matthew Knop, Data Management Lead and GIS Administrator at Navarro.
Outdated storage methods such as CDs, DVDs, and tape drives can lead to degradation or loss of data over time. Storage systems used by the Data Management team utilize modern data storage technology, are robust and fluid, and will support the collection of data and routine monitoring for years to come. “Preservation of this important data reflects a commitment to responsibly use taxpayer funding and, most important, ensures the public and the environment are protected by providing a solid foundation for the scientific investigations being performed at the NNSS today,” said Rob Boehlecke, operations manager for Environmental Management. These more agile systems will also provide the flexibility needed to adapt to future needs.
The Data Management team and their work are crucial to ongoing cleanup and monitoring work at the NNSS. “When we use data to make decisions on environmental restoration activities, we must have complete confidence in the accuracy of that data,” said Boehlecke. The Data Management team is indispensable to scientists and decision-makers who rely on vast quantities of continuously updated data from all Environmental Management programs at the NNSS in order to accomplish their goal of protecting public health and the environment.
NNSS Signs Cooperative Research and Development Agreement for Promoting Research in Unmanned Aerial Systems
Finding ways to use unmanned aerial vehicles to make communities safer is the goal of a new research and development agreement between National Security Technologies (NSTec) and Praxis Aerospace Concepts International (PACI). NSTec, the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) management and operating contractor for the Department of Energy, will work with PACI to develop and test advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) hardware and software. The systems will be developed to aid with traffic management, command and control during emergency situations, and UAS countermeasures. NSTec and PACI will also work on the development of systems that can travel beyond visual line-of-site, a limitation that exists with many UAS platforms.
This cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) benefits the NNSS by advancing the research and development of unmanned systems, part of the NNSS’ global security mission. The focus will include the development of first responder training using unmanned vehicles to detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents. The partnership will also allow the companies to study how to integrate unmanned vehicles into the existing manned aviation portfolio used for various missions at the NNSS. NSTec will provide personnel, services, facilities, equipment, intellectual property or other resources; PACI will provide those resources as well as funds towards research and development.
“The CRADA between Praxis Aerospace Concepts International and NSTec is another outstanding collaboration that addresses the significant need for additional research of operations for unmanned systems,” said Jim Holt, NSTec president. “NSTec and PACI will collaborate to establish guidelines and recommendations for safe UAS operations in commercial and government airspace. I am very pleased that PACI and NSTec will work together to solve issues that address elements of safety and structure in such an important national problem.”
The NNSS launched its UAS program in 2015 with two unmanned aerial vehicles at the NNSS Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL). Today, the fleet boasts 11 operational vehicles. RSL is the nation’s premier response team for detecting and assessing nuclear and radiological threats. RSL staff at Nellis Air Force Base and at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland provide coast-to-coast coverage for mapping radiological and nuclear data. RSL teams are deployed for special events such as the Super Bowl, major political conventions, and other large gatherings to detect radiological and nuclear threats. In 2011, RSL teams responded to the Fukushima Power Plant disaster in Japan to map radioactivity levels following the reactor meltdown in Japan. Many of these missions require the use of manned aircraft. By entering into this CRADA with PACI, NSTec will be exploring ways to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles into its missions related to detecting and assessing nuclear and radiological threats.
NNSS Reward Scientists Guss, Daykin and Engineer Baker With Distinguished Scientist/Engineer Positions
The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has just selected two senior principal scientists and one senior principal engineer to be recognized as “Distinguished” in their elevated positions:
• Paul Guss, formerly senior principal scientist now Distinguished Scientist, Innovative Technologies, Remote Sensing Laboratory
• Ed Daykin, formerly senior principal scientist now Distinguished Scientist, Diagnostic Research & Materials Studies, Defense Experimentation & Stockpile Stewardship (DESS)
• Stuart Baker, formerly senior principal engineer now Distinguished Engineer, Diagnostic Instrumentation, DESS.
The Distinguished Scientist and Distinguished Engineer positions signify an exceptional role in the scientific or engineering community. At NNSS, these employees are honored for defining cutting-edge projects that have impact on the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s mission at the Site. Their requirements include conceiving, planning and conducting pioneering work in otherwise unexplored areas; exercising technical leadership creativeness and judgment to prove or disprove the feasibility of ideas and devices; and developing, defining and modifying strategic research objectives in the course of planning and conducting innovative work.
Further, these employees serve as expert advisors and consultants to internal and external senior management, and develop and communicate long-range technical positions and strategies within defined corporate goals.
“This new recognition program honors employees who represent the elite technical contributors of our organizations. In their jobs, they are working on our future” said Raffi Papazian, National Security Technologies vice president for Program Integration. “What we looked for in the nomination phase were candidates who are delivering the next generational deliverables supporting their projects. They’re ahead of the curve, working beyond state-of-the-art on projects that are real-world and support national security needs.”
Dr. Paul Guss has more than 25 years of scientific and management experience with the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Nevada Field Office contractors. His prior experience includes several leadership and technical positions, including operating the Andrews Air Force Base Office of the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL), and leading several operational and research projects. Recently, he successfully executed the Global Security End to End Warhead Monitoring Campaign project (for which he won a Project Excellence Award last year), and is working on the unmanned aerial system at RSL and the Site.
Ed Daykin is responsible for the innovation and development of the MPDV (Multiplexed Photon Doppler Velocimeter) as well as contributing to deploying this diagnostic on integrated stockpile stewardship experimentation for the first time. He is the lead physicist responsible for adapting a highly complex Fabry-Perot electro-optic velocimetry diagnostic method into a remotely controlled, fieldable system at U1a. These experiments defined a strategic path for the National Security Laboratories to conduct future experiments at the NNSS. He also co-developed a time-of-arrival electro-optic diagnostic, which was applied to explosively driven pulsed power flux compression generators in order to evaluate this platform for future isentropic compression experiments at the NNSS, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory. His work has won the R&D 100 Award in 2012, an NSTec President’s Award, and several times, NNSA Defense Programs Awards of Excellence.
Stuart Baker’s current activities positioned his imaging team as corporate leaders in high-speed imaging and developmental radiographic systems. His special passion is directed toward multi-laboratory collaborations and identifying new activities. Emphasis is placed on operational system performance with application of system models, and experimental data analysis in preparation for system review and deployment. “Bringing my position to this next level will enable corporate growth of our core radiographic and imaging capability,” he says. His work includes dynamic stereo surface imaging for subcritical experiments at U1a, double pulse radiographic imaging at LLNL, FXR (Flash X-ray), and supporting development of the four-shooter soft X-ray imaging system at the Los Alamos Office.
Read more in the Las Vegas Business Press: http://businesspress.vegas/technology/nevada-national-security-site-scientiests-engineers-honored
Meet Sheryl Pfeuffer: Employees Proud to Claim 40-Plus Years at the NNSS
Most of us work because we must out of necessity. A majority of American workers change jobs several times in their lives, expanding their skills, knowledge and, hopefully, pay. But there are those rare employees who remain where they’re at for decades—not necessarily out of need but for different, personal reasons.
The NNSS celebrates those employees who have, remarkably, devoted several decades to the uniqueness that is the historic Site. Isolated 65 miles north of Las Vegas and as large as Rhode Island, the Site, as it is called, is not like any other place on earth. Perhaps that is part of its appeal to employees like Sheryl Pfeuffer who can count more than 40 years working there.
Sheryl Pfeuffer: Back in the day:
In 1975, TV’s Wheel of Fortune premiered, Margaret Thatcher became head of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party, and Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. That was also the year Sheryl Pfeuffer left her paralegal job downtown Las Vegas to work 65 miles away, as an environmental monitor at the Nevada National Security Site.
“Back in the day,” as it was known then, Sheryl oversaw the day-to-day activities for dosimetry (measuring absorbed radiations doses from nuclear tests). She prepared bioassay, air and water samples for radiological counting; repackaged transuranic material received at the Site in the 1980s from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; and buried mixed-and low-level waste.
Recently, Sheryl is facility manager of the Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF) in Area 4, Baker in Area 27, Explosives Ordnance Disposal Unit in Area 11, Source Physics Experiments in Area 15 and X Tunnel in Area 25. At BEEF, she’s overseeing the Legacy Fragmentation project, a series of three high-explosives experiments for Los Alamos National Laboratory using old legacy weapons components to evaluate potential fragmentation patterns. She also began working on the Helios shot campaign, scheduled for this spring.
The only thing she would trade in her job for is retirement: Her last official day at the Site is April 6. It’s “official” in the day-to-day sense. There’s talk that she may return as a Site tour escort. Not only is she affable and popular with management, her colleagues and staff, Sheryl is also an invaluable source of Site history and information.
Why has she stayed so long at the Site? “There’s always something going on. Nothing’s ordinary here. The people are great to work with, I’ve made some good friends here that I’ll continue with after I retire,” she says. Any regrets? “That I wasn’t around when they did the [atmospheric] shots. That would have been amazing to watch,” she says.
Sheryl is one of those rare facility managers who drops everything to work alongside her staff, if need be. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty,” she says. At the BEEF compound are some fascinating structures. One of them is the underground bunker where scientists, protected from explosion debris, control outdoor experiments and perform diagnostics from inside.
Unmanned Aerial Systems Soar to New Heights with Recent Flight Activity at NNSS
The NNSS unmanned aerial system (UAS) program is reaching new heights. The UAS team launched several aircraft into the windy skies at Desert Rock Airport recently, providing a demonstration to a group from several NNSS departments. Pilots demonstrated the various types of aircraft in the fleet, from quadcopters to fixed wing aircraft.
Flight simulator software allows pilots to try their hand at flying the aircraft in a virtual world before sending the real aircraft into the air. “The simulator gives us pretty realistic practice,” said Captain Mike Toland, a pilot with the program. “We get a feel for the aircraft on the simulator and it doesn’t cost us anything to make a mistake there. Once we’re comfortable there, we move on to the actual aircraft. It is a very different experience flying the aircraft from the ground than from a cockpit.”
While the simulator provides realistic practice, the skilled RSL pilots experience flying other aircraft is still vital. “It doesn’t simulate wind,” Toland said. “We have to correct for that when we fly.”
The demonstration also showed the capabilities of the aircraft to capture data. UAVs are being equipped and researched as a supplement to the other aircraft that RSL uses to detect and monitor radiological and nuclear threats. Unmanned aircraft equipped with sensors allows the teams to safely monitor threats from a distance, reducing the risk to pilots.
Karen McCall manages the UAS program and is pleased with the program’s success in the few short years since it launched. “Combining the sensors that we use for detecting threats and the flexibility of unmanned aircraft has the potential to supplement our response capabilities and to do it in a way that improves safety for our responding team members.”
Power Pole Retrofit Project Helping Protect Wildlife at the NNSS
Biologists and engineers at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) are retrofitting several power poles to protect wildlife that inhabit the Site. The retrofit is designed to reduce the risk of electrocution to birds.
Power poles pose a risk when a bird spreads its wings and touches two “live” parts of the pole. Raptors such as golden eagles and red-tailed hawks are at risk because of their large wing spans. Older power pole designs were not wide enough to account for the wing spans of large birds. Biologists and engineers at the NNSS have retrofitted several power poles at the site, covering energized parts of the power line to reduce the risk of electrocution.
“Retrofitting the poles allows us to protect the birds and infrastructure. We certainly don’t want the birds in danger of electrocution and when that happens, the damage to the infrastructure can be expensive to repair; that makes the retrofits a win-win,” said NNSS biologist Derek Hall.
New power lines are designed to be avian-friendly, with the “hot” portions of the poles covered to reduce the risk to birds. Older power poles are retrofitted during routine maintenance and in areas where golden eagles and other raptors are known to live.
“There are many areas on the site that are rich habitats for these birds. With water and food sources readily available, they like it there. We want to reduce the risks of anything that can potentially harm them,” Hall said.
NNSS Partnership with Medical Isotopes Company Continues to Grow Research, Technology
In 2015, the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Henderson, Nevada-based Global Medical Isotopes Systems (GMIS). The intent: a first-ever public-private partnership aimed at enabling production of an essential radioactive isotopes used in millions of diagnostic imaging procedures every year.
Recently, NSTec President Jim Holt stopped in for a tour of GMIS with its Chief Technology Officer Dr. Francis Tsang. Holt said he was impressed with how the GMIS facility and mission has grown in just the past year and a half. He lauded their progress and the possibilities that exist in continuing to enhance their development of the important isotopes.
“During my visit, I learned about the research activities that are leading to more efficient and less hazardous production of medical isotopes that will benefit everyone,” Holt said. “Technologies are being developed by GMIS that will improve availability of isotopes for everything from diagnostic tests to treatment options that are out of reach for most patients today.”
CRADAs are routinely used by the Department of Energy laboratories to enhance skills while supporting non-laboratory partners. The agreement describes the NNSS’s technical integration, modeling, materials, and design support to GMIS’s mission in the development and deployment of a ground-breaking approach in the production of the radioactive isotope - molybdenum-99 (Mo-99).
Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), is a decay by-product of Mo-99, is a pure gamma-ray emitter with a half-life of about 6 hours. This unique physical characteristic makes Tc-99m the most widely used medical diagnostic isotope in nuclear medicine. Its short half-life allows it to be used in body-scanning procedures that collect data rapidly but keeps total patient radiation exposure low. These factors make the isotope an ideal imaging agent.
Since Tc-99m has such a short half-life, it is next to impossible to keep an inventory of the material. Presently, there are about 40 million imaging and diagnostic procedures performed worldwide per year, of which 80-85 percent use Tc-99m. Of those 40 million procedures, more than 20 million are performed in North America, and about 1.5 million are performed in Canada.
The United States terminated its domestic Mo-99 production in the 1990s, but continues to import the isotope from Canada and Europe. In addition, U.S. and global demand for Mo-99 has grown substantially in recent years.
GMIS is currently developing a stand-alone system to produce the critical isotope on-demand in the Las Vegas area and ultimately nationwide. The company aims to employ more than 50 people in high-paying jobs at the Henderson-based company.
“By introducing a safe, decentralized, on-demand production system using non-enriched uranium, we’re answering the critical supply needs of the medical imaging community, while complying with the nuclear nonproliferation objectives of the U.S.” said Dr. Tsang said.
The five-year CRADA calls for NNSS researchers to provide technical integration, modeling, materials, and design support to GMIS’s mission. The CRADA will utilize the capabilities of the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL), located at Nellis Air Force Base in
Las Vegas and at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C. In its national security role, RSL develops advanced technologies for radiation detection and has substantial radiological emergency response capability. The NNSS brings to the CRADA staff of nuclear and health physicists, skilled physics and electronics technicians, a variety of radiological materials, and an extensive inventory of radiation detection equipment that will greatly benefit the mission of GMIS. These capabilities include the ability to assist with experimental work, perform computer simulations, provide guidance and direction, and furnish equipment as needed to support the goals of the CRADA.
“I was very impressed with the technical and business expertise employed by the GMIS staff,” Holt said. “The connection and collaboration between GMIS and NNSS will add technical capabilities to both organizations.” The CRADA with GMIS also has paved the way for several new CRADAs with other companies on the horizon.