Aerial Measuring Alignment
Joint surveys at the NNSS help validate data with international allies
In the event of an incident involving an actual or suspected release of radioactive material, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Aerial Measuring System (AMS), a component of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team, is prepared to deploy and determine ground contamination through airborne radiation detection systems and world-class scientific expertise. But how does a response team validate that data with other nations in the event of a release occurring outside of the United States? Enter AMS joint surveys.
The NNSA AMS team, which operates from the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, has partnered with numerous foreign partners – including Israel, Canada, France, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, the Nordic nations and Taiwan – to compare results of AMS detection operations. Two of the more recent partnerships have occurred in the last two years, with the Government of India Department of Atomic Energy Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, exercising these comparative aerial measurements at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).
Synchronization at the Site
Residual radiation from the nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) enables a visiting nation to conduct measurements using their technical instruments on NNSA aircraft. Locations at NNSS are selected in order to give scientists the opportunity to test their equipment’s ability to detect and characterize a variety of types and levels of radiological ground contamination. The results are then compared to previously gathered AMS data.
One distinguishing factor for the United States is its dedicated fleet of two Bell 412 helicopters and three newly acquired King Air 350ERs for this public health and safety mission. Most nations use contracted assets, such as police or charter aircraft.
“Because we have our own aircraft and pilots, we’re more practiced with acquiring data,” said Piotr Wasiolek, manager at the NNSS RSL-Nellis. “It’s a tremendous advantage.”
Often scheduled for months or years in advance, joint surveys also allow the comparison of detection equipment that is mounted to the aircraft externally or internally as cargo. In addition to the NNSS, survey locations have included Grand Junction, Colorado, and Government Wash in Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Last year AMS scientists traveled to Bodø and Oslo, Norway, as part of a project under the Arctic Council’s Emergency Preparedness, Prevention and Response (EPPR) working group to exchange information and AMS practices with EPPR member states. Given the challenges in responding to a potential radiological release in or near the Arctic, EPPR called upon AMS expertise for a tabletop exercise in the event of a radiological release from a nuclear-powered vessel. During the exercise, AMS assisted the Royal Norwegian Air Force helicopter unit with radiation-detection flights that would be conducted simultaneously with search-and-rescue efforts during a real-life response.
The forum also served as an opportunity for AMS representatives to cover the analysis findings from the joint survey with the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority.
“One of the strategic goals of the NNSA Office of Nuclear Incident Policy and Cooperation is to advance the United States government’s nuclear-related strategic objectives at home and abroad,” said Wasiolek. “This is done by strengthening and harmonizing global radiological/nuclear incident preparedness and response capabilities,” said Wasiolek.
AMS leaders from around the world will gather in Nevada this spring for the annual International Technical Exchange, an NNSA-sponsored meeting that allows participants to share their developments and capabilities for a chosen AMS topic. This year the technical exchange will focus on the work of AMS teams outside of response situations, including training and exercises, protection of major public events and contamination surveys.
For more information about RSL and AMS, see https://www.nnss.gov/pages/facilities/RSL.html.
Nevada Science Bowl showcases the best in high school STEM
Thirty-two high school teams from 28 Nevada high schools competed for the coveted Nevada Science Bowl title Feb. 1.
Davidson Academy of Reno took first place in the competition, now in its 29th year, and will represent Nevada at the National Science Bowl April 30 to May 4 in Washington, D.C. Nationally, more than 15,000 students compete each year for the opportunity to represent their school at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s National Science Bowl, which is the largest and most prestigious science competition in the country.
Las Vegas’ Clark High School, the grand-prize winner in 2019 and 2018, finished second. Third place was awarded to Coral Academy of Science - Las Vegas. Each finalist school received a check for its math and science departments. Las Vegas’ Advanced Technologies Academy was awarded the Good Sportsmanship Award for perseverance through adversity and commitment to STEM.
“As a scientist, it warms my heart to see the dedication and time spent by all the schools to prepare for this competition,” said NNSA Nevada Field Office Acting Manager Dr. David Bowman. “To see just how smart these high school students are in STEM-related subjects is amazing.”
Nevada Science Bowl tests students’ knowledge in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields through a series of fast-paced questions. Sponsors of the Nevada Science Bowl include the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Field Office (signature sponsor), Mission Support and Test Services LLC, Environmental Management Nevada Program, Bureau of Reclamation, SOC, Navarro, and JGMS, Inc.
A memorable year to volunteer
Throughout each season, NNSS employees serve their communities through volunteering. Our year-in-review video highlights a number of the wonderful organizations we worked with in 2019.
Thank you to our partners for an incredible year: Three Square Food Bank, Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada, Clean the World, Las Vegas Science & Technology Festival, Desert Research Institute, The Salvation Army Southern Nevada, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, The Animal Foundation, Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, Clark County School District School-Community Partnership Program, Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada, Ann T. Lynch Elementary School, Jim Bridger Middle School, Jacob E. Manch Elementary School and the Firefighters of Southern Nevada Burn Foundation.
Lowering mining equipment into U1a a success
In support of expanding the National Nuclear Security Administration's national security mission at the U1a Complex, which requires extensive mining efforts, new mining equipment was ordered and received recently at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).
The NNSS Fleet, Fuel & Equipment Services (FF&E) team, with assistance from the Mission Support and Nuclear Asset Operations directorates, hoisted and lowered four mining equipment pieces, totaling 115,000 pounds, down into U1a. What makes this job exceptional were the flawless planning, collaborative effort and exact execution to pull this off without incident to workers and U1a, especially the deep shaft itself.
Each mining equipment piece was not only heavy but dimensionally challenging. To get them down the shaft, FF&E disassembled much of the mining equipment above ground, then using a 350-ton Manitowoc crane, lowered each piece approximately 1,000 feet into the U1a line-of-sight utility shaft and then re-assembled underground. These four pieces, including the load haul dumps, are to further enhance the capabilities of mining underground.
This is the most recent procurement of mining equipment in 30 years at the Site, said Rick Medina, Site Services manager.
“This purchase speaks to the critical investment needed to support the future expanding national security mission of U1a and will augment mining assets currently being used there,” he said.
What made this whole job impressive were the meticulous planning and teamwork, Medina added.
“There’s been a focus on planning crane operations, such as hoisting and rigging,” he said. “Lowering that heavy equipment is slow. Lots of hazards are involved. We’ve never lowered so many items within two days, especially equipment this heavy. We also brought up two mining power center units for repair and maintenance. We couldn’t have done it without an integrated team working together with the same focus on safe work execution. It was a job well done by all involved.”
To learn more about U1a, click here.
New programs seek to study NNSS’ wildlife, protect springsnails
Mountain lions are part of Derek Hall’s DNA. His love of the “cats,” as he calls them, goes back to his alma mater, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, whose mascot is a cougar. Several years after, Hall dedicated his feline fandom to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). He oversees a project that studies mountain lions on the Site to learn more about their abundance, distribution, habitat use and diet.
A principal scientist, Hall is part of NNSS’ Ecological & Environmental Monitoring team, which tracks the Site’s animals. As for the lions, they are tracked because people have reported sightings of them.
“We wanted to understand what risk, if any, these animals posed to our Site employees, so we set up motion-activated cameras to document their distribution and abundance,” Hall said. “From the images, we discovered a reproducing population of mountain lions on the NNSS with males and females of various ages. The next step was to capture them and put on their GPS radio collars to track their movements and answer questions like, ‘Are they going near our facilities? Are they a threat? What are they eating? Where do they kill their prey? Are there areas workers should avoid?’ We collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to capture and track nine lions between 2010 and 2018. We learned that they pose little to no threat to NNSS workers, unless they're working in mountainous areas when it's dark.”
But it’s not just mountain lions Hall and his team monitor. They track and study several of the more than 1,500 animal species at the Site. This includes even small invertebrates like the southeast Nevada pyrg, a springsnail found at Cane Spring. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Field Office (NFO) to be part of a program to preserve these snails.
“This is a conservation strategy,” Hall said. “We’re trying to get more protection for several species of these snails. NFO is a good land steward in this regard.”
In the last few years, the NNSS has also been involved with the USGS in tagging desert bighorn sheep, the Nevada state animal. This involves capturing them, extracting blood, gathering their vital statistics and collaring to track them. This helps Hall and his fellow scientists learn their roaming patterns, their potential to become part of the hunter/food chain, and the prevalence of pneumonia, a deadly disease that has killed many sheep in Southern Nevada.
The NNSS and USGS are now expanding this stewardship and scientific study to mule deer and pronghorn antelope. Studying them closely will yield more data on their migration and movements, and their role in the hunter/food chain. Hall guesses there may be 500 to 800 mule deer living in the hills, mountains and mesas. As for antelope, up to 60 of them roam the Site’s open valleys and flat areas. According to Hall, USGS has contracted with Native Range Capture Services, a professional capture company contractor, to help him and his team with the mule deer and antelope capture effort. Another major collaborator on the project is the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW).
A video of the most recent tagging effort is available on the NNSS YouTube channel.
“It will be interesting to see what our data will show us,” Hall said. “As for mountain lions, winter is the toughest time for them: 21 percent of their prey is bighorn sheep, mainly in winter and spring. Sixty-eight percent of the mountain lions’ prey is mule deer, mainly in the summer and fall.”
These animals are crucial to the mountain lions’ survival, and to the Site’s ecology. So continues the circle of life.