NNSS News (July - September 2020)

EM Nevada hosts Jack Zimmerman, EM Consolidated Business Center director, for program visit

Boehlecke (left) and Zimmerman (right) observe Test Cell C
Boehlecke (left) and Zimmerman (right) observe Test Cell C.

Program Manager Rob Boehlecke and the Department of Energy (DOE) Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program recently hosted Jack Zimmerman, director of the EM Consolidated Business Center (EMCBC), for a visit to observe EM Nevada Program operations.

Director Zimmerman spent parts of four days with EM Nevada Program personnel during the week of Sept. 14, 2020. During his time in Nevada, Zimmerman received detailed briefings on EM Nevada Program operations, including EM Nevada Waste Management activities, EM Nevada Underground Test Area activities, EM Nevada Industrial Sites and Long-Term Monitoring activities, and EM Nevada’s ongoing transfer of stewardship responsibilities for certain sites on and around the Tonopah Test Range to the Office of Legacy Management, which is on-track to reach completion by Sept. 30, 2020.

Zimmerman also observed EM Nevada field work first-hand during a day-long visit to the Nevada National Security Site. The site exploration included stops to see some of EM Nevada’s most challenging and complex cleanup missions, including the demolition and disposal of the Engine Maintenance, Assembly and Disassembly (EMAD) facility and Test Cell C, which supported historic nuclear rocket engine development and testing in the 1960s and 70s.

“On behalf of the entire EM Nevada Program, we thank Director Zimmerman for the time he spent here in Nevada and we extend him an open invitation to visit us again soon,” said Boehlecke.

Nevada National Security Site releases 2019 environmental report

2019 NNSS environmental report

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) released its annual environmental report for 2019, now available online at http://www.nnss.gov/pages/resources/library/NNSSER.html.

The 2019 NNSS Environmental Report provides the results of environmental monitoring and compliance related to all programs and activities conducted in and around the NNSS to protect the environment and the public.

“The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Nevada Field Office (NFO) presents this environmental report to summarize actions taken in 2019 to protect the environment and the public while achieving our mission goals,” said NNSA/NFO Acting Manager Dr. David Bowman. “This report is a key component in our efforts to keep the public informed of environmental conditions at the NNSS and its support facilities in Las Vegas.”

Contents in the report include status and activities for environmental compliance and stewardship, radiological monitoring of groundwater and air, endangered species protection, cultural resources, outreach and more.

NNSS Fire & Rescue is now fully trained to conduct public safety sampling of unknown, potentially hazardous, substances (liquid, powder, etc.).

NNSS Fire & Rescue completes public safety sampling training

Thanks to a recent training hosted by the Nevada National Guard Civil Support Team, NNSS Fire & Rescue has a new skillset that may one day be of benefit to the local communities it serves.

NNSS F&R—which provides 24/7 ongoing life safety response coverage throughout Nye County at no charge—is now fully trained to conduct public safety sampling of unknown, potentially hazardous, substances (liquid, powder, etc.).

The training course simulated a clandestine lab with an unidentified powder that attendees needed to collect safely, without contaminating the sample.

“As with all of our training, we hope we'll never need to use it,” said Battalion Chief Doug Rierson. “But if a situation involving unidentified substances arises, we'll be ready.”

NNSS Fire & Rescue is now fully trained to conduct public safety sampling of unknown, potentially hazardous, substances (liquid, powder, etc.).
NNSS Fire & Rescue is now fully trained to conduct public safety sampling of unknown, potentially hazardous, substances (liquid, powder, etc.).

Locally, unknown substances are sent for identification to the CDC's Lab Response Network at the Southern Nevada Health District, the only lab of its kind in Southern Nevada. With this training completed, any samples collected by the NNSS F&R team could become evidentiary, or admissible in court.

The course was repeated several times to ensure all employees covering all shifts could attend.

Laboratory liaison: NNSS engineer Michael Misch coordinates components for next era of subcritical experiment capabilities

Principal Engineer Michael Misch (background) continues build on unit cabinets at LLNL with Engineer Koby Sugihara (foreground).
Principal Engineer Michael Misch (background) continues build on unit cabinets at LLNL with Engineer Koby Sugihara (foreground).

As the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) expands its diagnostic capabilities at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)’s U1a Complex, Principal Engineer Michael Misch is working as liaison between the Site, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to ensure elements of the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments (ECSE) portfolio come together.

Scheduled for completion in 2025, ECSE will provide scientists the necessary data required to support the Stockpile Stewardship Program. Making its debut to support the ongoing assessment and certification of the stockpile is Advanced Source and Detectors (ASD)-Scorpius, a new radiographic system that will study plutonium during the end stages of nuclear weapon implosion. The technology builds on Cygnus, U1a Complex’s current X-ray diagnostic machine, and the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility, which validates nuclear simulations at LANL.

“There’s a gap that Cygnus does not meet, and larger radiographic machines cannot do yet what we can underground,” said Misch. “The difference between Cygnus and DARHT is the scale of the machine. What Scorpius is doing is taking DARHT and putting it underground at that much higher energy level. It’s fulfilling a gap in the subcritical experiment world that nowhere else in the country is doing.”

Misch specializes in pulsed power. When energy is stored in capacitors and the pulse is shortened, it creates a high-density, high-power energy source for subcritical experiments. In an integrated effort between the NNSS and the laboratories, Misch is coordinating the pulser boards that are compiled into stacked units for Scorpius. The technology will undergo prototype testing at LLNL before the integrated test stand is built at the NNSS’ North Las Vegas location in early 2022.

“It’s all coming together in the NNSS’ backyard,” said Misch, who travels for weeks at a time between the Site, LLNL and SNL. “This will be a huge milestone with parts from LANL and Sandia built in different areas coming together.”

His rotation will soon include LANL as work for the U1a Complex Enhancements Project progresses. NNSA sites and laboratories have implemented enhanced safety protocols amid COVID-19 for work like Misch’s, which requires travel and in-person coordination with various engineering teams.

Approaching his seventh year with the NNSS, Misch first viewed the NNSS as a way to support the nation, in part because his family had an extensive military background. He began as an intern with the Multiplexed Photon Doppler Velocimetry team before moving to pulsed power with the Cygnus staff and then to diagnostics for subcritical experiments. Three years ago, he transitioned back to pulsed power. Misch notes that outside of national security, pulsed power is tied to only a few other fields like medical or agricultural, so the opportunity to apply its concepts to the NNSA enterprise is a unique one.

“Once you get in, it’s a very welcoming family—they invest in you,” said Misch, who is now pursuing his doctorate in environmental engineering. “They’re investing in you long term and want you to stick around. It gives you those opportunities you couldn’t otherwise find. This really is an exciting time to be working in this field. The technology here could set a new standard, and we’ll be some of the first to implement it on this scale.”

NNSA’s Nevada Field Office collects 2,700 pounds of food for Feds Feed Families campaign

NFO employee Tristan Dunn loads food in his truck after a door step pick-up.
NFO employee Tristan Dunn loads food in his truck after a door step pick-up.

Conducting the Feds Feed Families (FFF) food drive at NNSA’s Nevada Field Office (NFO) during a normal year is hard work. Doing so during a global pandemic is exponentially more challenging. Putting out food collection barrels and hosting special events in the name of collecting food donations works in a normal year, but throw COVID-19 and telework into the mix and what can you do? This is especially difficult when you come off a 2019 campaign that collected nearly 5,600 pounds of food.

Knowing the difficulty he faced, NFO Program Analyst Tristan Dunn became creative. Now in his third year as FFF coordinator, he acted quickly to organize drop-off locations in the north and south ends of the Las Vegas Valley. He even picked up donations from employees’ homes. He reminded employees each week that they could make donations via online grocery deliveries or donate directly to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission’s website, with every dollar equaling a pound of food.

When all was said and done, NFO families had donated more than 2,700 pounds of food. The total was just 100 pounds shy of the donations made in 2018.

“In the past I almost never made time to do this type of volunteer work,” Dunn said. “But when I took the donations to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission and saw the situation firsthand and the impact our donations had – it got me passionate.”

Valerie Weiderman, from the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, was grateful for donations from the NFO.

“We cannot thank you enough for all of the incredible support you give the Las Vegas Rescue Mission and those we serve,” she said. “The Mission is able to continue serving those in need because of partners like you and community members who care about giving back.”

Administrator all-hands
NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty addresses employees during an all-hands meeting at the NNSS.

NNSA Administrator visits Nevada National Security Site

This week, Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Under Secretary for Nuclear Security of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), visited the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) to thank employees for their continued work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The trip coincided with the NNSA’s 20th anniversary.

On day one of her visit (Sept. 2), Administrator Gordon-Hagerty toured the Nuclear Testing Archive and the National Atomic Testing Museum before traveling to Switch Data Centers to cut the ribbon on the NNSS’ Emergency Communications Network and celebrate project cost savings.

She traveled out to the Site on Sept. 3, where she conducted an all-hands (in person with a small number of employees and the rest via livestream, due to social distancing) with the NNSS’ approximately 3,000 federal and contractor employees, who have persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic and made it possible for NNSA to fulfill its national security missions.

DAF Argus dedication
Administrator Gordon-Hagerty poses with employees during the Argus dedication ceremony at DAF.

“Your work keeps our Nation safe from nuclear threat and helps to maintain the nuclear deterrent vital to protecting American interests,” Administrator Gordon-Hagerty said. “Visiting our Nevada site provided me with an opportunity to thank those who have continued to achieve our national security missions while maintaining safe working protocols under truly unique circumstances.”

She also touted NNSS’ dedication and adherence to its national security mission in the midst of a global pandemic and praised NNSS for having “no missed deliverables” since alternate work arrangements began. “In the face of international concerns,” she noted, “taking this time off was not an option.”

Administrator Gordon-Hagerty concluded, “Now the challenge is to sustain efforts at the NNSS while maintaining social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols. Our Nation is relying on each of you to remain healthy and continue your critically important work here at NNSS.”

Following her all hands, the Administrator presided over a dedication for the completion of the final phase of work on the NNSS’ state-of-the-art Argus security system at the Site’s most secure facility, the Device Assembly Facility (DAF), which supports subcritical experiments, special nuclear material staging and emergency response training.

Administrator underground at U1a
A briefing is given to the Administrator underground at U1a.

She completed her visit with a tour of the current work taking place at the Site’s underground U1a facility—the only place in the Nation where subcritical experiments can be conducted—as well as a visit to Mercury Building 1, the first building in the Mercury Modernization series.

The big Switch: NNSS completes Emergency Communications Network Data Center modernization

ECN Switch riibbon cutting
NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty (third from right) dedicates the ECN Data Center Sept. 2.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has secured the future of the Department of Energy/NNSA Emergency Communications Network (ECN) through a partnership project with Switch, a Las Vegas-based provider of advanced data centers. The ECN facilitates exchange of real-time voice, data and video information to manage emergency situations that involve NNSA interests and assets.

Eight years ago, NNSA began exploring options to update the ECN’s infrastructure housed at the NNSS’ Remote Sensing Laboratory at Nellis Air Force Base. Upgrading the existing ECN would mean a multi-million dollar investment on an already dated infrastructure.

In 2017, pursuant to a lease awarded by Mission Support and Test Services, LLC (MSTS), the management and operating contractor of the NNSS, Switch began to modify the existing Switch Las Vegas Data Center to adhere to NNSA configurations. ECN data was then migrated from RSL-Nellis to the new Switch Las Vegas Data Center. The data migration was completed in July 2020.

The NNSA portion of the Switch Las Vegas Data Center meets specifications set forth by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence for sensitive compartmented information facilities.

ECN Data Center at Switch
The ECN Data Center at Switch Las Vegas.

“Switch was designed and built to support global missions of agencies like the NNSA,” said Switch Executive Vice President of Strategy Adam Kramer. “Switch provides a safe, resilient and sustainable environment for the deployment of NNSA’s mission-critical data.”

With data migration complete in July 2020, the project came in three months ahead of schedule and $1.36 million under budget at $7.8 million. Teams from emergency management, security, cybersecurity, IT, and procurement from across MSTS and NNSA were instrumental in the project’s implementation.

“It’s a huge milestone,” said MSTS ECN Program Director Dr. Antonio Montgomery. “This will modernize the ECN, enhance our reliability, increase speed and is cost effective.”

The success of the project was recognized in a Sept. 2 ribbon-cutting ceremony with NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty at the Switch data facility in Las Vegas. Administrator Gordon-Hagerty has incorporated upgraded infrastructure in her strategic plan for the enterprise.

NNSS provides more than $50,000 for FIRST Nevada students

FIRST Nevada donation

Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) management and operating contractor Mission Support and Test Services (MSTS) is pleased to make a $50,991 donation to 501(c)(3) non-profit FIRST Nevada.

“FIRST Nevada is very fortunate to have the support of the Nevada National Security Site,” said President of FIRST Nevada Stephen Philpott. “Their continued donation is vital to our growth and success of FIRST STEAM educational programs, and we are honored to have them as a partner. The Nevada National Security Site recognizes the need to develop the skill sets in our youth to become the problem solvers of tomorrow.”

The funds will cover all registration costs for 83 FIRST LEGO League - Challenge and 24 FIRST Tech Challenge teams to participate in the upcoming season. FIRST LEGO League - Challenge enables students ages 9 to 14 to practice real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO®-based robots, and FIRST Tech Challenge allows students in grades 7 to 12 to design, build and program robots for a team competition.

“As a longtime supporter of FIRST Nevada, we’re proud to make it possible for 107 teams of students to continue their journey of discovery,” said MSTS President Mark Martinez. “We understand that COVID-19 has made our education system more difficult, and I want to do what I can to encourage future STEM leaders to stay challenged and engaged.”

The NNSS has been a supporter of FIRST Nevada since its founding. FIRST Nevada works to inspire young people to become leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills. More than 90 percent of FIRST students report improving their time management, problem-solving and leadership skills during FIRST programs. Program participants are 87 percent more likely to challenge themselves in a STEAM-related career field at their high school and more than 75 percent of FIRST alumni choose engineering their first year of college.

“FIRST Nevada’s partnership, since the beginning in 2005, has been vital to our growth and success of FIRST STEAM programs, and we are thrilled to have the Nevada National Security Site provide this much needed support for our teams during these difficult times,” said FIRST Nevada Founder Jean Hoppert. “We are truly grateful for our aligned vision to create a diverse workforce through STEAM education in Nevada and know that this support creates the bridge to ensure teams have the means to move forward in 2020.”

NCSD donation

NNSS’ $34,000 donation to help students connect to education

As Southern Nevada continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) management and operating contractor Mission Support and Test Services is proud to make a $34,000 donation to the Nye County School District to provide mobile hotspots and internet service for 50 families.

“The Nye County School District is very grateful for the continued support from NNSS,” said Nye County School District Superintendent Dr. Warren Shillingburg. “Their generous donation will help us make sure all of our students have access to their online curriculum and to the online support from their classroom teachers.”

With more than 5,500 students enrolled, the district has had to face challenges to ensure students have accessibility to the technology required for distance learning. Some schools – Amargosa, Tonopah, Round Mountain, Gabbs, Duckwater and Warm Spring – will continue in-person classes with an online support class period. Others like Pahrump and Beatty are utilizing a hybrid model where half the students will attend class in person while the other half is virtual. The district was required to provide a fully virtual option should parents choose that route. Nearly a quarter of students’ families will do so when school begins Aug. 24.

Based on district surveys, 200 individual students need internet access support. The NNSS’ donation will provide mobile hotspots with internet access for 12 months to 50 families who may have multiple students in the household.

“This donation allows us to make purchases immediately,” said Nye County School District Director of Technology Robert Williams. “We have families with a great deal of anxiety because school starts next week, and we don’t have the devices. Being able to work directly with NNSS is enabling us to make purchases faster and into the hands of families sooner.”

Seniors will be given priority access to the devices in order to stay on track for graduation. If younger students are also in those households, they’ll also be able to utilize the technology. In addition to the schoolwork, Williams said the technology is also key to maintaining important connections between students and their teachers.

“I am really grateful that the NNSS has been able to help us,” said Williams. “Speed is of the utmost importance. You’ve enabled us to do something faster than we would have been able to in other ways.”

“The NNSS works to foster a passion for STEM in schools throughout the region,” said MSTS President Mark Martinez. “Until we can connect in person again, this is a way for us to directly support students and encourage them to continue their education.”

Socially distanced students study seismic activity

seismic interns social distance
Kale Mclin, Michelle Dunn and Ryan Jensen social distancing before they start their day.

Two Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) interns had the unique opportunity to assist with fieldwork following a recent 6.5 magnitude earthquake.

The earthquake occurred near Tonopah, Nevada, and happened to be the largest magnitude earthquake in the state since 1954. The following smaller earthquakes, aftershocks, can occur for months after the initial earthquake and need to be effectively recorded and monitored, which requires immediate response from scientists to deploy temporary seismic stations. The NNSS deployed a seismic array in conjunction with the United States Geologic Survey and the University of Nevada, Reno. The NNSS seismic stations were arranged along the fault line in a geometric pattern to increase sensitivity to aftershocks. The seismic array records the aftershocks and allows NNSS personnel to study the seismic characteristics of the region.

The seismic array needs to be maintained every four weeks, which gave NNSS interns Michelle Dunn and Ryan Jensen the opportunity to go in the field, a unique opportunity as most interns have worked virtually this summer due to COVID-19. To do so, COVID-19 guidelines were adhered to ensure employees were safe; Dunn, Jensen, NNSS Senior Principal Scientist Cleat Zeiler, Ph.D., and NNSS Senior Scientist Kale Mclin drove separate vehicles to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Intern Michelle Dunn
Michelle Dunn with one of the seismic stations.

With the fieldwork conducted in a remote area 215 miles north of Las Vegas, the four easily maintained at least six feet of distance. When six feet of distance was not feasible, masks were worn. The data collected by the NNSS allows for an in-depth understanding of earthquakes for both nuclear explosion monitoring and seismic hazards.

“The fieldwork I have been involved with has addressed interesting scientific challenges,” said Dunn, a doctoral student studying geophysics at the University of Nevada, Reno. “I enjoy working with collaborative teams that work to maintain public safety and security, so the NNSS has been a great fit. Despite the remote working conditions, I have been able to make significant progress and further my skillset as a young professional and seismologist.”

“The COVID-19 safety protocols put in place by the NNSS made me feel more comfortable working around other people amidst the pandemic,” shared Jensen, a mechanical engineering student at Boise State University. “I don’t work with a large group of people at the NNSS in the first place, but I trust each of them will follow the necessary safety protocols put in place by senior leadership and Occupational Medicine.”

Intern Ryan Jensen
Ryan Jensen swapping out equipment.

After concluding the 12-week internship program in August, Dunn will finish the last year of her doctoral program and Jensen will finish his final semester of his undergraduate program. Both interns will continue to work for the NNSS part-time throughout the school year with the goal of coming on full-time following graduation.

For more information about NNSS Student Programs, visit https://www.nnss.gov/pages/NFO/MSTSStudentPrograms.html.

National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada National Security Site and National Laboratories named Editor’s Pick in Journal of Applied Physics

JAP dynamic temperature measurements
STL and National Laboratory scientists show how dynamic temperature measurements change when there is one material interface (a) versus two (b). Measuring the temperature at (1) will give a very different result from measuring it at (2) due to thermal conductivity and wave interactions caused by the layer. Relating this temperature to the bulk is the subject of the published article.

Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Special Technologies Laboratory (STL) Scientists Gerald Stevens, Brandon LaLone and Lynn Veeser are honored in the July 2020 Journal of Applied Physics Editor’s Pick for their research article titled, “Thermal interfaces in dynamic compression experiments.”

The collaborative research, with experiments conducted at NNSS’ STL, located in Santa Barbara, California, with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, both based in New Mexico, examines the challenges of interpreting dynamic temperature measurements. While scientists have established techniques to measure temperature from a radiant surface, that particular surface can often be the interface between different materials. Understanding the details of resultant temperature profiles is key to understanding the equation of state of the shocked sample under investigation. The published data represents two years of work.

“Our team felt this topic needed to be addressed in publication because many people are now working on dynamic temperature measurements,” said Stevens, who manages the STL physics team. “However, few studies focus on and understand the minutiae and address how those details drive our interpretation of the results — and this is one of them. You develop intuition as a scientist in your work when it contributes something new and worthy of publication. It’s a huge effort to write one of these papers.”

Submitting to an established and reputable journal can be an intricate process. Once the team felt it had enough data and modeling to be complete, the initial article was sent for a peer review, which allows the reviewer to ask for clarifications or challenge the content. The process was completed in about eight weeks. Stevens noted that the NNSS’ Normal Operations with Maximized Telework posture has afforded scientists time to reanalyze data and work on articles from recent research, which will likely result in a number of NNSS publications this year.

Now available to the public, Stevens hopes “Thermal interfaces in dynamic compression experiments” will prove useful for colleagues within the NNSA enterprise, organizations like the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which provides nuclear defense for the United Kingdom, as well as academic institutions with temperature diagnostics programs, such as Caltech. As one publication is complete, the next is already underway. The team is currently authoring a paper that studies dynamic temperature measurements of Cerium. Encompassing more than two years of experimental research, Stevens noted the data that will be submitted for publication shows the team’s method to be the most precise temperature measurement technique.

“It’s one of the things we do that lends credibility to the NNSS,” said Stevens. “If you want to be known as a science and tech organization, then the proof is in the publications. Publications broadcast your work and your capabilities to the community at large.”

For more information about STL, visit https://www.nnss.gov/pages/facilities/STL.html. To read “Thermal interfaces in dynamic compression experiments,” see https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0012524.

Preparing for Perseverance

ECAM Mars Perseverance
NNSS Principal Technologist Bert Cochran completes setup and configuration of an Environmental Continuous Air Monitors system at Kennedy Space Center.

The NNSS’ Remote Sensing Laboratory is providing radiological emergency response during NASA’s next launch.

Among the most iconic events in Americana are space launches. From Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ historic Apollo 11 launch with the Saturn V to 135 space shuttle liftoffs, Kennedy Space Center is a pillar in U.S. space history. As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prepares to write history once again with the launch of the Mars Perseverance rover at nearby Cape Canaveral, the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) has been an integral part of the planning for radiological and emergency response support for this summer’s landmark event.

The Perseverance rover that will explore the red planet’s surface is equipped with an energy source that employs Plutonium-238 to maintain the system’s power and electrical systems, known as the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). The technology – designed, built and tested by the DOE – uses multiple layers of protective measures to contain radioactive material in the event of an accident during launch. While there is high confidence that the MMRTG design will prevent a release of radiological material, it is prudent to have the capability to quickly assess whether there are any radiological consequences resulting from a launch area accident. Enter RSL.

Based out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, RSL is one of the nation’s leading entities for nuclear incident response and remote sensing, providing essential elements of the DOE/NNSA’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST). RSL specializes in radiation sensor development and execution of air and ground radiation detection, surveillance and radiological assessment missions. A fixture for radiological emergency response at major national and international events, including the 2011 Fukushima incident, the RSL element of the NEST – which includes scientists, pilots, engineers and operational specialists – stands ready to respond to a nuclear incident 365 days a year.

RSL’s support to NASA dates back to the 1997 launch of the Cassini spacecraft. The partnership continued throughout the ensuing decades, with RSL providing essential technical planning and operational support for subsequent launches. Since the 2011 launch of the Mars Curiosity rover, the RSL team has been conducting radiological contingency planning and sensor development for the Mars 2020 mission.

“This has been an amazing team effort during the last eight years,” said NNSS Nuclear Response Team Lead James Essex. “After supporting both the Mars Curiosity launch and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 2011, we proposed a win-win solution to both NNSA and NASA. The proposal to NASA was to improve their real-time air sampling network for their next MMRTG launch. The proposal to the NNSA Office of Nuclear Incident Response was an early-warning capability that DOE could use in the event of an ongoing release at a nuclear power plant. Eventually, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to share the capability between agencies, saving taxpayers millions of dollars from duplication of effort. Then we began the process of developing, testing and manufacturing the capability at RSL.”

Mars Perseverance system verification test
NNSS Principal Engineer John Istle and Principal Scientist Jeremy Gwin work with the NASA field team supervisor to deploy 25 field teams during a full field system verification test.

The result of that proposal is an extensive static air monitoring network that can characterize data, which provides emergency responders the information required to make operational decisions. A total of 30 sensor units will be deployed around the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral site prior to launch day. Several field exercises have been completed, and a seven-person team from the NNSS is supporting operations leading up to launch day.

“The launch of Perseverance is deemed a critical activity by the U.S. government,” said Essex. “NASA is working hard to execute the launch safely under the circumstances. This has required shifting schedules, expectations, and safety considerations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These shifts have translated into needing to make things happen on short notice, which has required asking for support from many people across the NNSS. Ensuring this is a safely executed success has required support from numerous teams: information services, cybersecurity, medical, material coordination, procurement, travel, shipping, finance, the Emergency Communications Network, all levels of management, facilities and janitorial staff, and all of the Nuclear Response Division. The takeaway is that there are many people from all over the NNSS who are making this possible.”

For real-world events and exercises alike, RSL coordinates emergency response efforts with federal, state, local and tribal entities through the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center. Mars 2020 has enabled RSL the opportunity to further build communication plans with other organizations.

“This has given response communications an opportunity to work on new methods and ways to organize ourselves and the systems in place to answer questions a little differently from what we do with state and local partners,” said NNSS Nuclear Response Manager Rajah Mena. “With NASA, this is one of those things you know where you’re going, the items of interest and timeline. It affords you an opportunity you don’t have other places.”

Execution of the NNSS’ support to Mars 2020 real-time air sampling network was an integral effort between multiple NNSA entities – including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Kansas City National Security Campus – through the DOE’s Strategic Partnership Projects (SPP) directive, which encompasses work performed by NNSA personnel for non-DOE entities, such as NASA. Out of all projects assessed through NNSA’s external review process, the enterprise’s support to the Mars 2020 launch was deemed among the top 10 best executed.

“This is the perfect execution of what was intended for SPP—leverage NNSA capabilities to help out other federal entities while providing collateral back to NNSA,” said NNSS Nuclear Response Director Alexis Reed. “This is exactly what we try to achieve when we engage in SPP projects: a win for the federal government.”

For more information about RSL, see https://www.nnss.gov/pages/facilities/RSL.html. To follow the Mars 2020 Perseverance launch, visit https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.

NNSS Fire & Rescue supports local volunteer fire departments

F&R Amargosa support
Photo courtesy of Nye County Sheriff’s Office

While the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is known both locally and nationally primarily for its national security mission work, what’s perhaps lesser known—but also vitally important—is the ongoing life safety response NNSS Fire & Rescue paramedics provide throughout Nye County, including to volunteer fire departments, at no charge.

A recent example of just one of the approximately 100 emergency response actions provided to rural Nye County annually between Beatty and Indian Springs took place in June.

NNSS Fire & Rescue received a request for paramedic support from Amargosa Fire, an all-volunteer team that had been battling a five-acre structure fire blaze for hours. The area was filled with everything imaginable, including two school buses, vehicles in various stages of decay, household appliances and numerous types of vegetation. While the 10-15 volunteer fire personnel had managed to keep the fire away from the main structure and completely save it, the effort had taken its toll.

Upon arrival to the scene and receiving an update from Beatty EMS, NNSS paramedics Rhonda Beauchene and Edgar Vargas began triaging the firefighters identified as in need of assistance, determining the two most serious patients who would require immediate transport to the closest hospital, Desert View Hospital in Pahrump. A second unit was requested to transport two additional firefighters.

After receiving verification that a Pahrump ALS unit would be transporting the two additional patients, NNSS updated Beatty EMS that they would be leaving with their two patients and advised that the remaining firefighters should be rotated through rehab and be cooled as quickly as possible.

Beauchene and Vargas returned to the scene after clearing Desert View Hospital ER. Assessing that two firefighters and the captain were in immediate need of rehab, they set up a formal rehab area to provide on-scene treatment, which they continued to provide as needed until the fire was extinguished.

In all, the effort was supported by Amargosa Fire, Beatty Ambulance, NNSS Fire & Rescue, Pahrump Fire and Rescue, Station 51 Fire, and BLM Fire. Personnel admitted to the hospital with heat-related illnesses have since been released.

“I am proud of Rhonda and Edward for the exemplary service they provided to our neighboring brothers and sisters who were on the job,” said NNSS Battalion Chief Michael Worthen. “Not only did they provide excellent patient care, but they also served as a great example for what our department stands for.”

It’s instances like these when the NNSS’ memorandum of understanding (MOU) to provide Nye County with ongoing life safety response at no charge is especially impactful. The more than 100 emergency response actions provided to rural Nye County annually by NNSS paramedics represent an in-kind contribution of $285,000 annually to Nye County.

“At the NNSS, we embrace a culture of caring for one another and looking out for one another,” said Mark Martinez, president of Mission Support and Test Services, the management and operating contractor for the Nevada National Security Site. “This isn’t a culture we want to keep to ourselves; we feel it’s our responsibility to serve the communities in which we live and work as well. I’m extremely proud of our Fire & Rescue team for their work assisting the all-volunteer Amargosa Fire department. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

In addition to the NNSS’ MOU with Nye County, the Emergency Management program routinely coordinates with first responders at the local and state level to ensure integrated emergency response. Approximately 27 exercises in the last three years have had local emergency response participation, and 1,600 responders, representing 40 Nevada communities, participated in 125 classes as a part of the Department of Energy’s Transportation Emergency Preparedness efforts.

For more on the NNSS’ Emergency Services and Operations Support, click here.

High-stake sensing

laser technology MASTR-E
A paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division demonstrates marksmanship using laser technology at a MASTR-E exhibition at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gin-Sophie De Bellotte)

The NNSS and U.S. Army are teaming to develop tactical readiness technology.

The long history of the Nevada National Security Site developing and deploying unique sensor technology has led to a partnership with the Department of Defense to advance U.S. Army combat personnel performance. This joint agency effort represents another facet of the NNSS expanding its national security mission.

The Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness program, known as MASTR-E, will utilize wearable sensors – developed in partnership with the NNSS’ Special Technologies Laboratory (STL) – to measure, predict and enhance the dynamic decision making and readiness status of combat soldiers under stress. STL specializes in custom devices, measurement instruments and analysis methods for field deployment.

“I believe what NNSS is bringing to the table is the first of its kind,” said U.S. Army MASTR-E Program Manager George Matook. “Any high-stake, high-consequence environment that requires rapid decision making needs the ability to assess and understand how that affects the physiology of the person, whether shooting or making a financial transaction.”

The NNSS first engaged with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center during a Special Operations Command event in late 2019 for human performance initiatives.

“We’ve grown into partnership at numerous levels and have developed an ongoing habitual relationship from organization to organization,” said George Papageorge, program manager for the NNSS’ Global Security Strategic Partnership Programs. “It’s really about how people in high-stress jobs regulate their physiology or understand their physiology so that can continue to operate under high-stress situations.”

Analyzing human performance data will not only enable soldiers to monitor their individual cognitive and motor factors, but will serve as the narrative for future training and operational posture. Cognitive, emotional, physical and social factors will be evaluated in order to find solutions to performance issues in high-stress environments.

“Army Futures Command is corralling all the forces to make one cohesive answer to human performance and what it means to helping our operators on the ground,” said NNSS Senior Principal Intelligence Analyst Ian O’Keefe. “It’s a multi-year effort. We’re working with a small group on prototype designs and introducing them to the training protocols. We collect data and metrics, then start to refine in order to determine formal training and development of formal products.”

Pilot testing for the program, slated through 2024, is scheduled to begin at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, in September.

“We're really excited to have the partnership with the NNSS,” said U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center Director Doug Tamilio. “One of the greatest parts of MASTR-E is the professional networks it brings for all invested in human performance. We're getting closer to putting a tremendously useful capability in our Soldiers’ hands today, and making them more survivable and lethal. We are assessing the ability to make decisions under stress-in the moment and in the moments that matter.”

How EM Nevada’s route monitoring ensures safety of waste shipments

Lee Stevens HAZTRAK
Lee Stevens, a transportation expert with Navarro Research and Engineering, the lead environmental program services contractor for EM Nevada, uses the Nevada National Security Site-based Hazardous Materials Notification System to monitor and manage shipments from waste generators.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered near Lone Pine, California, recently prompted urgent notifications from the EM Nevada Program to waste generators shipping classified and low-level, and mixed low-level radioactive waste to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

That rapid reaction to ever-changing regional road conditions is a routine occurrence that demonstrates the EM Nevada Program’s commitment to the safe transportation of waste for the protection of people, workers and the environment.

Following the earthquake, Lee Stevens, a transportation expert with Navarro Research and Engineering, the lead environmental program services contractor for EM Nevada, immediately relayed key information concerning regional road closures and conditions to waste generators with shipments en route to the NNSS. His quick thinking and proactive communication helped ensure the safety of drivers and their loads, minimized rerouting or shipping delays, and facilitated continuous situational awareness for U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) staff supporting NNSS waste management operations.

“EM Nevada is doing great work to keep waste generators across the DOE complex aware of road and weather conditions on routes to the NNSS,” EM Nevada Program Manager Rob Boehlecke said. “Lee’s rapid response on June 24 not only helped to ensure the safety of drivers and their cargo, but also demonstrated that EM Nevada is ready, willing, and able to respond decisively to a more significant event if the need arises. I thank Lee and all of our transportation partners for their continued commitment to collaborative communication.”

EM Nevada uses the NNSS-based Hazardous Materials Notification System (HAZTRAK) to monitor and manage such shipments. Applicable information from HAZTRAK is also accessible to intergovernmental partners and the general public on the NNSS website here.

EM Nevada also recently worked with personnel from the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) to publish guidance that ensures NDOT route approvals are consistent with agreements between DOE and Nevada stakeholders.

Since 1999, more than 31,000 radioactive and classified waste shipments have been safely transported to the NNSS. To learn more, click here for the EM Nevada waste transportation fact sheet.

NNSS partners with USGS, NDOW to study Site’s pronghorn antelope, mule deer

Home to more than 1,500 species—from spring snails, to big horn sheep, to mountain lions—the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has an extensive wildlife population. NNSS biologists track and study several of these species, for a variety of reasons.

Most recently, the NNSS teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey and Nevada Department of Wildlife to study the Site’s pronghorn antelope and mule deer populations. NNSS Principal Scientist Derek Hall guesses there may be up to 800 mule deer living in the hills, mountains and mesas. As for antelope, up to 50 of them roam the Site’s open valleys and flat areas.

While hunting isn’t allowed on NNSS property, these animals can travel offsite. Studying them closely can yield more data on their migration and movements, and their role in the hunter/food chain. For the full story, please enjoy this short NNSS-produced documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYmK-rDXbzc.

NNSS partners with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes to aid in military personnel’s transition

Cynthia Ellis
Hiring Our Heroes participant Cynthia Ellis

The U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) formed a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes this year.

Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to connect veterans, service members and military spouses with various employment opportunities. Its goal is to create a movement in hundreds of communities across America where veterans and military families return to the civilian workforce smoothly. The program lasts 12 weeks, and then it is up to the employer whether the participant stays onboard full-time. Four participants from the program are placed with the NNSS: Randall Bach, Ladetra Collins, Cynthia Ellis and Michael Howard.

Randall Bach served in the military for 25 years. Now, he is working for the Emergency Communications Network department.

Ladetra Collins is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in transportation and logistics management while working for the NNSS in the Material Coordination department. Collins adds, “After serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, transitioning back to civilian life is not easy. Many of us joined as kids, well 18, and it is all we know. Any assistance that we can receive to help smooth our transition is a weight lifted off our shoulders and our families.”

Cynthia Ellis is currently working in the Counterterrorism Testing Operations department after having served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. When she originally joined, she signed up to be an intercontinental ballistic missile maintainer, who helped maintain the facility that held the ballistic missile. After 10 years in that position, she cross-trained to be a sensor operator. In that role, she was responsible for watching over an assigned area through the eyes of drones.

“Being in that role made me feel like I truly was impacting the military, even if it was emotionally difficult,” commented Ellis. “When you are doing an over-watch mission, you are keeping the military members safe by scoping out an area prior to them entering. And if you miss something, you can imagine what that leads to.”

Ellis is ready to settle down into her civilian life in Las Vegas. After being away from her family for years, she is excited to be home. The Hiring Our Heroes program has given her the opportunity to do so by matching her with the NNSS for a 12-week program. This period will allow her time to adjust to civilian life and work, while hopefully ending in a full-time job offer.

Michael Howard is currently working within the NNSS Material Coordination department during the program. After serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, he finally decided to call one location home, Las Vegas.

Howard has enjoyed his time with the NNSS thus far and personally identifies with the family atmosphere he has witnessed during the internship, something he is all too familiar with given the comradery of people during his military and dependent careers.

Transitioning from one career to another is not very easy; however, the NNSS experience has given Howard an advantage to realign goals and simplify his transition. He looks forward to his future with the NNSS.

These four veterans will conclude their 12-week program at the end of the summer. The NNSS will then determine whether to hire them full-time, and the participants will decide if they would like to stay with the NNSS.

For more information about U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, visit https://www.hiringourheroes.org/.

NNSS modifies internship program to allow for telework amid COVID-19 pandemic

virtual internship map
NNSS interns are logging in from 13 different states this summer.

The U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) continues to invest in the future workforce and to grow capabilities within the enterprise by transforming the student programs into a virtual setting.

In 2019, the student program was developed to allow hands-on work experience, mentorship in various disciplines and professional development opportunities for college students. More than 70 students participated in the 12-week program last summer.

This year, more than 70 students were again ready to begin their summer internship at the NNSS, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an in-person internship was no longer feasible. On April 17, the decision to switch the platform to a virtual format was made by the senior leadership team. NNSS management and operating contractor Mission Support & Test Services (MSTS) President Mark Martinez is passionate about engaging students with the NNSS’ national security mission and made the final decision to switch to a virtual format as opposed to canceling the program. "Our success depends upon talented people who are interested in our national security missions as well as living in Las Vegas or near one of our satellite locations," said Martinez. "After experiencing tremendous success with our 2019 intern program, I couldn’t see us taking a step backward in this opportunity to develop talent for our future."

The NNSS acknowledged the challenges associated with a virtual internship; however, the Talent Acquisition department worked with many other directorates to transform the program from an in-person internship to being completely virtual in just five short weeks.

The team prepped for a summer never experienced before by developing a fully functional collaboration program website, where all program information is saved and easily accessible remotely; converting all professional development sessions to online presentations; working with the Information Technology department to ensure that students would be able to have remote access; collaborating with other departments; and creating online chatrooms so students could communicate with one another. One chatroom feature includes having a member of the senior leadership team in it at all times to ensure students are able to actively engage with leadership throughout the program.

Now six weeks into the virtual program, the NNSS continues to offer students a robust experience that is personable, interactive and informative in order to prepare them for a professional career within the enterprise.

Olivia Dockery, a returning civil engineering intern, shares her experience about how the program has helped her adapt to change: "Transitioning from an in-person to virtual internship has presented its challenges, but the NNSS has provided me a variety of resources that allow me to feel confident in the work that I am doing and comfortable communicating with others in the enterprise."

Ryan Jensen, a returning mechanical engineering intern, added, "I feel the virtual internship program has been going very well thanks to the NNSS’ effort to make sure it was a smooth transition for each of us. We've been able to gain real-world knowledge, experience and teamwork skills all from a virtual environment. I think I can speak for all of the interns in saying that we are very thankful to have been given this opportunity."

These students, along with more than 70 other students, began teleworking May 27, logging in from 13 different states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

For more information about NNSS Student Programs, visit https://www.nnss.gov/pages/NFO/MSTSStudentPrograms.html.