NNSS News (April - June 2018)

DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty visits the NNSS

LGH at U1a
Gordon-Hagerty (center) underground at the U1a complex.

During all-hands, NNSS Principal Technologist Ronnie Owens honored for 45 years of service

DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty visited the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) June 13-14.

Gordon-Hagerty is no stranger to the NNSS, having previously served in the Department of Energy’s Defense Programs as the director of the Office of Emergency Response, which had oversight of the NNSS’ Remote Sensing Laboratories’ (RSL) emergency response programs.

She brings more than 30 years of national security experience to her roles as NNSA administrator and advisor to Energy Secretary Rick Perry. In addition to her work in the Office of Emergency Response, she has served on the National Security Council staff as the director for Combating Terrorism; at DOE as acting director of Office of Weapons Surety; and was a professional staff member on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce. She has also held significant leadership positions in national security in the private sector.

On June 13, Gordon-Hagerty toured the Site itself, visiting locations of high importance to the NNSS’ national security mission. Highlights included the U1a Complex, an underground laboratory used for subcritical experiments, and the Site’s most secure facility, the Device Assembly Facility (DAF), which supports subcritical experiments, special nuclear material staging and emergency response training.

The morning of June 14, she joined NNSS employees in person and, in the case of remote locations, virtually, for an all-hands meeting.

LGH all-hands
The Administrator speaks with NNSS staff at an all-hands meeting.

“Thank you for the warm welcome back to the NNSS,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “It’s a wonderful pleasure to be back and see the faces of so many people I remember from the 30-plus years I’ve been out here. … It’s so nice to be home.”

From there, she spoke of the NNSS’ – and NNSA as a whole – role in the United States’ national security mission.

“Ensuring the safety, security and reliability of our nation’s nuclear stockpile, developing tools for nuclear nonproliferation, providing expertise in counter-proliferation and assuring that the United States Navy is equipped with nuclear propulsion—all your work contributes to our nation’s security, and that of our allies and our friends,” she said. “NNSS’ support to stockpile stewardship and management is as important as ever.”

Furthermore, Gordon-Hagerty said, “… our NNSA team has continued to meet our nation’s security challenges and delivered, without question, the greatest scientific and engineering achievements ever seen. From the earliest days of the Manhattan Project, to high-performance computing, the science-based stockpile stewardship program has effectively sustained our confidence in the U.S. deterrent, in the absence of nuclear explosive testing, and we will continue to do so, using the great minds and talents of our labs, plants, and, in particular, this Site.”

She also made sure to remind employees the importance of everyone’s contributions.

“We continue to provide critical support and expertise in our nation’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts and intelligence community and, yet again, NNSS has been at the heart of supporting these important national security missions,” she said. “We can be proud of these and so many other achievements, and I want to thank you for each and every one of your own contributions.”

Along these same lines, Gordon-Hagerty said, “Although I’ve spent more than three decades visiting and supporting NNSS activities, I’m impressed during each and every one of my visits here with the talent and dedication I see among our workforce. Thank you.”

LGH with Ronnie Owens
Ronnie Owens (second from left) is recognized for 45 years of service to the NNSS.

She also spoke at length about what’s to come, mission- and program-wise, as well as for the people, who she described as “at the heart of our mission.”

“We have numerous, critically important, but achievable, programs ahead of us, and with your leadership and support, we will not fail,” she said. Within this, she noted the importance of working together as an enterprise to build a stronger pipeline of new talent, in preparation for the eventual retirement of those who become eligible in the coming years.

“All Americans should be assured that, in the face of our nation’s greatest security needs, we have assembled the world’s greatest scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff, here and throughout our great country,” she said.

Gordon-Hagerty closed by leaving employees with one message: “Our community is not often what comes to mind when one thinks about defending our nation’s freedoms through nuclear security, but you can rest assured, we think of you every day. You are the frontlines of our nation’s freedom. We may not be able to discuss our work much, but know that our nation depends on each and every one of you. We will work together to advance our national security interests, improve performance and complete every one of our missions successfully.”

In addition to discussing matters of national security and the NNSS’ role, Gordon-Hagerty – joined by NNSA Nevada Field Office Manager Steven Lawrence and Mission Support and Test Services* Vice President John Benner – recognized NNSS employee Ronnie Owens for 45 years of service.

“It was pretty much a normal day – other than being recognized by our leadership, in front of all my co-workers,” joked Owens, a principal technologist with the pulsed power machine and imaging team, supporting the Sierra Nevada series of subcritical experiments.

Manager Alexis Reed (left) briefs the administrator on current emergency response capabilities at RSL-Nellis.

In all seriousness, though, “I really appreciate the time I’ve spent working for the NNSS,” he said. “It’s been a great 45 years. It was also wonderful to meet Ms. Gordon-Hagerty.”

Owens began his work with the NNSS in the company’s mailroom and, shortly after, at the print shop, where he spent nine years as a press operator before enrolling in the company’s in-house electrical training program. Upon completion of his training, Owens became a technician I and has been working in the technical arena ever since.

“When I grow up, I want to be Ronnie,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “What a wonderful resume, and thank you for your contributions to our national security. It’s indeed a pleasure to be with you this morning.”

Upon closing, Gordon-Hagerty took questions before completing her visit to the NNSS with a trip to RSL-Nellis, which has served for more than 50 years as a valuable national asset for nuclear emergency response and remote sensing capabilities.

*Mission Support and Test Services serves as the management and operating contractor for the NNSS.

Planning and Communication Paves the Way for Cleanup of Nevada Clean Slate Sites

clean slate
Soil excavation activities at the Clean Slate II site on the TTR.

A focus on safety through planning and communication is driving cleanup activities at the Clean Slate sites on the Tonopah Test Range (TTR), just north of the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). This summer, cleanup activities will be completed at the Clean Slate II site and work will begin at the Clean Slate III site. Remediation of both sites involves the excavation, packaging and disposal of contaminated soil and debris at the NNSS.

The Clean Slate sites were the location of experiments conducted in 1963 to test the safety of nuclear devices. Though these experiments did not result in a nuclear yield, they caused the dispersal of various surface contaminants, including plutonium and americium. Two previous cleanup campaigns occurred in the late 1990s and 2014 but excavation and removal of contaminated soil was delayed until future use of the sites and associated cleanup levels were determined.

Planning for this final phase of cleanup began in 2016 through close collaboration between the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program; EM Nevada Program cleanup contractor, Navarro; State of Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP); the U.S. Air Force and Sandia National Laboratories (both conduct activities on the TTR); and the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board (NSSAB).

clean slate
Excavated soil is sealed within Department of Transportation-certified Industrial Packaging and loaded onto trucks at the Clean Slate II site.

Upon agreement of a path forward, the EM Nevada Program focused on informing local communities about upcoming fieldwork. Throughout May and June 2017, briefings were provided and questions answered at meetings in Goldfield, Tonopah, Pahrump, Beatty, and Las Vegas. “Our commitment to sharing information and listening to feedback supports the building of trust within our neighboring communities,” said Rob Boehlecke, EM Nevada Program Manager.

To broaden public awareness, a fact sheet was published on the NNSS website and hundreds of copies distributed to intergovernmental groups; the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe; and libraries, senior centers, community organizations, and post offices in Tonopah, Goldfield and Beatty – rural communities that waste shipments travel through to the NNSS.

While community engagement efforts were taking place, preparations were finalized for field activities with an emphasis on safety. After successfully demonstrating readiness, the skilled and experienced crew proceeded with excavation and packaging of contaminated soil in November 2017. The first shipment of waste to the NNSS occurred in mid-December after coordinating with Nye County Emergency Management and the Nevada Department of Transportation to obtain and share information on routing.

clean slate
A radiological control technician prepares to survey concrete debris uncovered during excavation of soil. Discovery of oversized debris is one of several unexpected conditions that was successfully addressed through collaboration with EM Nevada Program technical and contracts staff to continue remediation efforts in a safe and timely manner.

Throughout remediation, coordination with Sandia and the U.S. Air Force continued, along with updates to the public. This included two Community Conversations events held in Tonopah.

In addition to ongoing communications, the safety of field activities continued to be evaluated and enhanced. Several safety initiatives were implemented, such as relocating equipment and activities to reduce heavy equipment operation and lessen worker fatigue. Management also collaborated with field workers to address unexpected oversized concrete debris found during excavation.

As remediation wraps up at Clean Slate II with the completion of an anticipated 170 shipments by the end of June, the focus on safety, communication, and experience will be carried forward to Clean Slate III. This summer, workers will begin excavating, removing, and packaging approximately 7,500 cubic yards of soil and debris. The effort is expected to continue into 2019 and involve an estimated 450 shipments planned in multi-week campaigns. The success of both cleanup and disposal campaigns have and continue to hinge upon the team’s commitment to safety and open and frequent communications.

Team NNSS Places 7th in City of Las Vegas Corporate Challenge

corporate challenge torch relay
Team NNSS participates in the torch relay to open the "games."

At the close of the 2018 City of Las Vegas Corporate Challenge season, Team NNSS finished in 7th place overall in the A division (companies with 1,000 or more employees).

Team NNSS was among 70 local companies (19 in the A division) that competed in 37 different sporting activities during the Corporate Challenge games, an annual event that reflects the spirit of the Olympic Games.

Participants earned a total of 91 medals this year – 30 gold, 18 silver and 43 bronze. Top finishes for Team NNSS included silver medals in bowling and swimming, and bronze medals in 8-ball, archery, beverage pong and skeet shooting. Indivuals also won medals for Team NNSS while competing in the bike race, 5K run, swimming, track and field, and the walk race.

Team NNSS also earned 30 bonus points for attending Corporate Challenge meetings, participating in the opening and closing ceremonies, volunteering at Corporate Challenge events and participating in the Charity Challenge. These points ultimately helped Team NNSS capture 7th place.

Congratulations and thank you to all of the participants!

corporate challenge badminton
Badminton team
corporate challenge softball
Softball team
corporate challenge table tennis
Table tennis team

NNSS Fleet Wins Third FLEXY Award


Congratulations to the NNSS Fleet, Fuel and Equipment Services department and Rick Medina, NNSS’ Site Services manager, both recognized for Excellence in Fleet Sustainability (Public) at the North American Fleet Association (NAFA)’s Annual Institute & Expo.

NAFA’s Fleet Excellence awards ceremony, or FLEXYs, honors the best in fleet management and maintenance. Rick himself was honored this year for “Outstanding Accomplishments” in Public Fleet Sustainability.

The FLEXY is the first award of any kind for Mission Support and Test Services since the company became the management and operating contractor for the NNSS. This is the third FLEXY for Rick and his Fleet, Fuel and Equipment Services department.

For more information about NAFA and the FLEXY awards, please visit: https://www.nafainstitute.org/About-IE/FLEXYAwards/Flexy-Winners.aspx.

NNSS, Japan Share Knowledge, Experience at AMS Workshop

Japanese AMS Workshop
Preparing for a flight in the AMS helicopter

A Japanese delegation recently visited the NNSS’ Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev., to learn about aerial measuring technology for their own use.

At the request of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Office of Nuclear Incident Policy and Cooperation, the Aerial Measuring System (AMS) program out of RSL-Nellis hosted a workshop for the Japanese delegation. The delegation included individuals from the country’s Cabinet Office, Nuclear Regulation Authority, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, and the OYO Corporation. The goal of the workshop was to provide Japan with technical updates on AMS methodology and operational processes as they explore the possibility of creating a similar capability.

The three-day workshop started with a visit to RSL for a tour of the Consequence Management (CM), AMS and Aviation assets. In addition to several presentations by both the Japanese guests and RSL-Nellis staff, the delegation also had a unique opportunity to fly in an AMS helicopter so they could observe the AMS training methodology first-hand.

Both RSL-Nellis and the Japanese enjoyed the chance to share their experiences and learn more about their counterparts from another part of the world. The visit also enhanced the relationships previously forged during the 2011 Fukushima response, where AMS and CM assets provided crucial data to the Japanese during that time of crisis. NNSA and the NNSS expect to continue to strengthen their relationship with Japan and other countries through similar events.

NASA, NNSS, partners complete Kilopower experiment at NNSS

Artist's concept of new fission power system on the lunar surface.
Photo credit: NASA.

Demonstration proves nuclear fission system can provide space exploration power

NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

NASA announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment, during a news conference May 2 at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Kilopower experiment was conducted at the NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.

“Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.”

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power - enough to run several average households - continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost.

According to Marc Gibson, lead Kilopower engineer at Glenn, the pioneering power system is ideal for the Moon, where power generation from sunlight is difficult because lunar nights are equivalent to 14 days on Earth.

NASA and NNSA engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY (KRUSTY system). The vacuum chamber is later evacuated to simulate the conditions of space when KRUSTY operates. Photo credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“Kilopower gives us the ability to do much higher power missions, and to explore the shadowed craters of the Moon,” said Gibson. “When we start sending astronauts for long stays on the Moon and to other planets, that’s going to require a new class of power that we’ve never needed before.”

The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity.

According to David Poston, the chief reactor designer at NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, the purpose of the recent experiment in Nevada was two-fold: to demonstrate that the system can create electricity with fission power, and to show the system is stable and safe no matter what environment it encounters.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios, and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said Poston.

The Kilopower team conducted the experiment in four phases. The first two phases, conducted without power, confirmed that each component of the system behaved as expected. During the third phase, the team increased power to heat the core incrementally before moving on to the final phase. The experiment culminated with a 28-hour, full-power test that simulated a mission, including reactor startup, ramp to full power, steady operation and shutdown.

Throughout the experiment, the team simulated power reduction, failed engines and failed heat pipes, showing that the system could continue to operate and successfully handle multiple failures.

“We put the system through its paces,” said Gibson. “We understand the reactor very well, and this test proved that the system works the way we designed it to work. No matter what environment we expose it to, the reactor performs very well.”

The Kilopower project is developing mission concepts and performing additional risk reduction activities to prepare for a possible future flight demonstration. The project will remain a part of the STMD’s Game Changing Development program with the goal of transitioning to the Technology Demonstration Mission program in Fiscal Year 2020.

Such a demonstration could pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, including missions that rely on In-situ Resource Utilization to produce local propellants and other materials.

The Kilopower project is led by Glenn, in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NNSA, including its Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site and Y-12 National Security Complex.

For more information about the Kilopower project, including images and video, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/kilopower.

For more information about NASA’s investments in space technology, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/spacetech.

Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette visits the NNSS

Deputy Secretary at benches
Brouillette looks toward Frenchman Flat at the NNSS.

Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette visited the Nevada National Security Site April 2-4. He was accompanied by Captain Nathan Martin and Chief of Staff Jim Colgary.

Deputy Secretary Brouillette began his visit by meeting with seven NNSS early career professionals for lunch in North Las Vegas at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Field Office Nevada Support Facility.

During the lunch, Brouillette took the time to learn a bit about NNSS’ attending young professionals, asking each one in turn several questions about themselves, as well as what brought them here, first impressions when joining the NNSS and more. “What does it take to keep you here?” was a reoccurring question throughout the afternoon.

Several of the young professionals cited supporting the national security mission as a reason they enjoy their work.

“It’s an important mission,” Brouillette agreed. “I hope you’re very proud of that.”

After the lunch, the deputy secretary joined a group of NNSS representatives in traveling to the Site, where he spent the following day-and-a-half meeting with Site leadership and visiting several facilities important to the NNSS’ current mission (the Device Assembly Facility and the U1a Complex, to name a few), in addition to historic locations.

Brouillette concluded his visit Wednesday, April 4, by touring the NNSS’ Remote Sensing Laboratory – Nellis and meeting with key leaders.

deputy secretary lunch
Brouillette (front, center) met with young career proffessionals for lunch.
deputy secretary U1a
Outside the U1a Complex.
deputy secretary underground
The deputy secretary (center) receives a briefing underground at U1a.

Local business publication honors Marylesa Howard in 40 Under 40

firefighters badging ceremony
Marylesa Howard receives her recognition at the VEGAS INC 40 Under 40 celebration. Photo credit: Las Vegas Weekly.

Local Las Vegas business publication VEGAS INC has recognized MSTS Supervisor II Marylesa Howard as one of its 40 Under 40. In selecting the winners for the 18th annual awards, the publication reviewed nominees’ community service, entrepreneurial spirit and impact on their respective industries.

Marylesa was both surprised and honored to be recognized.

“I didn’t know a mathematician could end up working in underground mines, wearing hardhats and steel-toed boots, but I love my job,” Marylesa told VEGAS INC prior to the event. “My colleagues are great, the work is challenging, and I feel like I am giving back to the community, all of which create a satisfying work life for me.”

While honorees represented a variety of sectors, they all had one thing in common, the publication says: “They’re making Las Vegas a better place.”

This year’s 40 Under 40 were recognized at a March 22 event at Red Rock Resort. To view Marylesa’s feature, please visit VEGAS INC’s website, here. Awardees are listed in alphabetical order.

NNSS welcomes four new firefighters

firefighters badging ceremony
NNSS Fire & Rescue badging ceremony

On March 26 before family and friends, new Probationary Firefighters Steve Witherell III, Keith Armington, Adrian Brown and Tyler Carter (pictured center, from left to right) received their badges and are now official firefighters at the NNSS! Congratulations to them as they begin their careers with our Fire & Rescue department. Many thanks to Deputy Fire Chiefs Donald Parker, Jemmy Castro and Brian Dees (pictured in white, from left to right) for supporting the ceremony in North Las Vegas.

“Being a firefighter is a calling, not a job. It takes a special person to provide the service we provide—particularly when we’re away from family and our personal live one-third of the time. For these firefighters, there will be rites of passage they will have to endure. I congratulate them and welcome them to our F&R family,” said Deputy Chief Castro at the ceremony.

Family members and friends pinned their badges on, followed by hugs and handshakes.

NNSS revegetation project using tribal recommendations in full swing

tribal revegetation

Revegetation of the historic 92-acre disposal area at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) using recommendations from the people native to the land is underway. The project began in 2016 when the Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program asked the Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations (CGTO) for assistance after previous attempts at revegetating the land were unsuccessful. Now, the EM Nevada Program is moving forward with incorporating the wisdom and traditional ecological knowledge shared by the CGTO that have been passed down among tribal members for thousands of years.

Representatives from the CGTO formed a Tribal Revegetation Committee (TRC) to provide recommendations to the EM Nevada Program after careful study, research, cultural interactions with the land, and consultation with tribal elders. The recommendations provided by the TRC include various seeding and transplant methods utilizing test plots and continual tribal contact with the land as the plants grow. The TRC has recommended a three-year study of the area in order to ensure establishment of the plants, which is consistent with the standard time frame used in ecological studies.

The six CGTO members of the TRC represent three broad ethnic groups with cultural and historic ties to the NNSS and surrounding lands: Southern Paiute, Western Shoshone, and Owens Valley Paiute-Shoshone. Two members from each group are working on the project along with additional expertise from CGTO spokesperson Richard Arnold; ethnoecologist Dr. Jeremy Spoon of Portland State University’s Department of Anthropology; and ecologist Dr. Michael Clifford of Desert Research Institute.

Based on their initial recommendation, tribal representatives observed the first planting last fall.

The TRC expressed their commitment to working closely with the EM Nevada Program in helping to restore ecological and cultural balance to the land. “We are the voices of the land who speak of its importance and desire to maintain ecological balance in accordance to tribal traditions,” Arnold says. Arnold explains that tribal people have been on the land for thousands of years and witnessed many changes, including the separation of tribal people from the land where they were created. “When we are reunited, the land welcomes our return so the healing can begin,” Arnold says.

The project continues in 2018 with a planned spring planting. The TRC recommendations include regular monitoring by the CGTO representatives as well as other tribal members, including young adults. These young tribal members will be encouraged to assist in the project, to help pass on tribal ecological knowledge for generations to come.

For the EM Nevada Program, the project demonstrates a commitment to consider tribal perspectives and concerns when completing environmental management tasks. “The input of culturally affiliated tribes is invaluable to the EM Nevada Program as we carry out our mission to ensure the protection of the public and the environment from the effects of historic nuclear testing. The revegetation project is part of a continuing effort to incorporate tribal involvement in EM missions,” says Rob Boehlecke, program manager, EM Nevada Program.