NNSS News (October - December 2018)

2017 groundwater characterization sampling results now available

groundwater sampling

Recent sampling results continue to show public water supplies are safe from the impacts of historic underground nuclear testing.

Recently published sampling results support scientific investigations that indicate public water supplies are safe from groundwater contaminated by historical underground nuclear testing at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). Groundwater samples collected in 2017 on federally-controlled land surrounding the NNSS and in nearby communities comply with safe drinking water safety limits for a variety of radioactive contaminants. Results of groundwater samples collected on the NNSS confirm that contamination is limited to locations near historic underground nuclear test sites. Detailed analytical results for the 34 groundwater samples collected can be reviewed in the Department of Energy Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program annual Underground Test Area Annual Sampling Report, published in November 2018.

The validated laboratory results for the 34 samples collected from 27 wells (some at multiple depths) located on and near the NNSS are a key component of scientific research conducted to ensure the public is protected from accessing groundwater contaminated by historic underground nuclear testing.

groundwater sampling

Independent, State of Nevada-certified laboratories were used for analysis of the samples, which are tested to identify levels of general chemistry parameters, such as pH (acidity/alkalinity) and specific conductance (amount and mobility of ions that conduct electrical current). In addition, the samples are analyzed for 18 different metals (including lead), as well as for gamma emitting, gross alpha and beta, and the radioisotopes tritium, strontium-90, carbon-14, chlorine-36, technetium-99, iodine-129, and plutonium-238, -239 and -240. Specialized analyses for radioisotopes was also conducted by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to provide additional sample information that cannot be obtained by the commercial laboratory. This includes detecting radionuclides at lower levels which gives scientists a clearer picture of concentrations in groundwater.

A detailed quality assurance/quality control process is followed for the collection of groundwater samples that includes the collection of duplicate samples and various blanks (samples not from the wells), and the use of baseline samples (samples containing previously defined levels of a particular contaminant) to measure precision and accuracy. A complete description of all the processes implemented to further validate the integrity of sampling results is included in the report.

Groundwater samples are routinely collected by the EM Nevada Program as prescribed in the NNSS Integrated Groundwater Sampling Plan in conjunction with other NNSS water monitoring activities conducted in accordance with federal regulations. Additionally, groundwater is monitored by separate, independent programs conducted by Nye County and the Desert Research Institute’s Community Environmental Monitoring Program. The results of all NNSS environmental monitoring activities are published annually in the NNSS Environmental Report.

In the photos, groundwater samples are collected in September 2018 using a depth-discrete bailer at well ER-20-2 located on Pahute Mesa at the NNSS. Analyzed laboratory results of this sampling will be published in the 2018 Underground Test Area Annual Sampling Report and the 2018 NNSS Environmental Report.

Maps showing results of each well tested in 2017 appear as Figures 1-3 and 1-4 in the Sampling Report.

RSLA Bush funeral
At the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where President Bush's state funeral service took place.

NNSS' Remote Sensing Laboratory proud to serve President George H.W. Bush one final time

As the nation remembers the life and legacy of former President George H.W. Bush, the NNSS was honored to serve the former president one final time by providing the Remote Sensing Laboratory's security and emergency preparedness support for his state funeral event in Washington, D.C. A large part of the laboratory's work is keeping communities safe from radiological threats during major public gatherings.

Nevada National Security Site completes landmark solar installation

solar panels
A view of the new solar array at fire station No. 1.

Completion of a solar array at Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) fire station No. 1 marks the first net-zero energy building within the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) enterprise.

The installation provides 424 kilowatts DC of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy generation and leverages existing infrastructure to maximize the amount of renewable energy generation to the Site. The project was a collaboration between multiple DOE organizations: the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; NNSA Office of Safety, Infrastructure and Operations; NNSA Nevada Field Office; and NNSS management and operating contractor Mission Support and Test Services, LLC.

The venture is part of the NNSS’ long-term Site modernization and consolidation plans. The Mercury Solar Project is the first grid-tied solar PV installation in the NNSS portfolio. On an annual basis, the solar array is anticipated to produce more electricity than the total consumptive energy use of the fire station, effectively making it the first net-zero energy building at a DOE NNSA site.

“This initial effort to introduce solar at the NNSS lays the groundwork for further integration of sustainable energy technologies and is a foundational element supporting Mercury and NNSS modernization initiatives,” said Jacob Huffines, NNSS support facilities and infrastructure program manager. “It supports the goal of creating enduring, modern and technologically advanced facilities that will enable and support DOE mission activities, and the associated workforce, for decades into the future.”

Excess capacity of the array will be credited toward a new Mercury campus environment, which will begin construction in January 2019. The new modernized Mercury campus buildings are being designed as High Performance Sustainable Buildings with LEED Gold and net-zero energy design criteria. Power generated from the Mercury solar array will enable the first new building within the campus to also be credited as a net-zero energy facility.

The project demonstrates practical application of technologies that can make facilities sustainable and more cost-effective over the long term and provides an example of how to effectively leverage DOE enterprise capabilities in partnership with private and public sector resources.

NNSS wins sixth R&D 100 Award

R&D 100 award 2018
Distinguished Scientist and Site-Directed Research and Development Program Manager Howard Bender, MSTS President Mark Martinez, Principal Scientist J. Andrew Green and Senior Principal Scientist Eric Machorro receive the R&D 100 Award for silicon strip cosmic muon detectors Nov. 16 at the annual gala and award ceremony.

NNSS received its sixth R&D 100 Award for its silicon strip cosmic muon detectors project Nov. 16 in Orlando, Florida. The annual conference and awards gala recognizes the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year.

The R&D 100 entry, co-developed with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), focuses on drift tube-based technology, which allows silicon strip muon detectors to be embedded into structures without extensive calibration software requirements or the risk of high voltage and flammable gas. Muons are secondary particles that travel down to the Earth’s surface and arrive at a wide variety of angles and energies when cosmic rays collide with the Earth’s atmosphere. Muon detectors enable trackers to recognize shielded nuclear materials, explosives and other items of interest. The identification process allows threats that could be concealed in different types of materials to be recognized. Various implementation options make the silicon strip muon detectors a potentially paramount advantage to maritime safety and homeland security.

“It is a great accomplishment for the Nevada National Security Site and our multi-laboratory team to receive one of this year’s R&D 100 Awards,” said NNSS Strategy Development Manager Robert Koss. “The scientists and engineers who developed this award-winning technology are keeping our nation at the forefront of innovation through contributions to U.S. and global security.”

NNSS previously won five R&D 100 awards for its 2017 Geometrically Enhanced Photocathodes, 2013 KiloPower with LANL, 2012 Multiplexed Photonic Doppler Velocimeter, 2010 Movies of eXtreme Imaging Experiments with LANL and 2009 High-Resolution Holography Lens entries. NNSS was also a finalist for its Argus Fisheye Probe in 2015.

Busy times for the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board

2018 NSSAB
NSSAB members receive a Groundwater Overview presentation during orientation.

There are some new faces on the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board (NSSAB).

Beginning Oct. 1, six new members began their two-year term on the volunteer citizen advisory board, ready to work with the rest of the members to provide recommendations to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program activities at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

The six new members, who went through an application and interview process before their appointment, join 12 others who were re-appointed to the board. NSSAB members hail from Beatty, Pahrump, Amargosa Valley, Las Vegas, Henderson, Tonopah, North Las Vegas, Boulder City, and Mesquite, Nevada. The board also recently added its first ever member from Shoshone, California.

“Each member joins for their own unique reasons and come with their own unique backgrounds. This leads to a collection of knowledge and experiences that prove invaluable to both the board and the EM Nevada Program,” said Kelly Snyder, EM Nevada Program Public Affairs Director and Deputy Designated Federal Officer for the NSSAB. “It’s always great to receive a fresh perspective on things,” Snyder added.

The first task of the new fiscal year for the NSSAB was to receive a “crash course” introduction to the DOE EM Nevada Program. On Oct. 10, the new members, plus a majority of the returning members, participated in the NSSAB orientation, which included overview and status briefings on EM Nevada Program topics such as NNSS groundwater characterization, radioactive waste disposal, and public outreach activities. Throughout the half-day session, members asked insightful questions and held detailed discussions relating to the different topics presented. Their attention to detail demonstrated the group’s growing understanding of EM Nevada Program activities as well as their commitment to learning all they can for the good of their communities.

Then came the tour.

2018 NSSAB
The tour of the NNSS allowed for a visit to the historic Sedan Crater.

It’s one thing to view presentations about the NNSS and the EM activities taking place there. It’s another to see it in person. On Oct. 24, NSSAB members took a full-day bus tour of the NNSS, learning about both past and present activities at the NNSS, including stops at locations related to the FY 2019 NSSAB Work Plan. The board also visited historic locations such as Icecap and Sedan Crater, where a group photo was taken.

“When you go on a tour of the NNSS, you get a better understanding of the place – how the site functions today and how it developed in the past,” said Anthony Graham, intern-turned-full board member of the NSSAB. “Everyone who has an interest in the atomic past, the public lands of the west, or local Southern Nevada history should take the opportunity to visit the NNSS,” Graham added.

With the lessons learned at the orientation and the firsthand experience of visiting the NNSS, the NSSAB is well-prepared to take on its list of work plan items for FY 2019. Throughout the year, the board will provide recommendations to the EM Nevada Program on the following seven work plan item topics:

  1. Pahute Mesa Groundwater Sampling Well Prioritization
  2. Changes to Approach for Pahute Mesa Completion
  3. Waste Verification Strategy
  4. Evaluation of the Audit Determination Process
  5. Low-Level Waste (LLW) Visual Verification
  6. Offsite Groundwater Contamination Communication Plan
  7. FY 2021 Baseline Prioritization

These work plan items were presented by the EM Nevada Program to the NSSAB during the Sept. 26 board meeting. The members then voted on which work plan items to work on for the next fiscal year. In the end, all of the presented work plan items were approved and the board’s FY 2019 agenda was set.

All in all, the NSSAB is off to a fast and exciting start to the new fiscal year. With new members ready to provide a fresh perspective, and returning members committed to continue providing helpful insight as representatives of their communities, big things are in store for 2019 and beyond.

For meeting details, meeting minutes, recommendations, work plan items, and other information, visit www.nnss.gov/NSSAB/. NSSAB meetings are open to the public and the next meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

NNSS protective services contractor graduates first new hire class

SOC grad class 2018

SOC, which delivers protective force services to the Nevada National Security Site, recently graduated its first new hire class of seven security police officers (SPOs), three protective force lieutenants and one training instructor. These recently hired employees completed a 10-week training package, including Nevada Site-Specific Initial Training and the DOE National Training Center’s (NTCs) Tactical Response Force 1 (TRF100) curriculum. TRF100 provides SPOs with basic and advanced skills associated with DOE’s Protective Force mission. These skills range from use-of-force and compliance techniques to marksmanship, tactics and advanced weapons.

Originally from five different states, the 11 members of the class brought nearly 50 years of military experience from various services, as well as 50 years of experience from other locations and areas within the Department of Energy enterprise. The TRF100 18-01 class graduated Sept. 13 in a ceremony at the National Atomic Testing Museum.

The delivery of this TRF100 package also allowed for the DOE National Training Center (NTC) to observe the first conduct of the TRF100 curriculum under the SOC banner. (SOC took over the protective force services contract for the NNSS on March 1.) The NTC staff observed key points throughout the curriculum. This observation and its subsequent report allowed the NTC the basis for granting site re-certification to deliver the TRF100 Program of Instruction on Oct. 1. This was a major accomplishment for the Protective Force Training Academy.

R&D 100 Finalist: Silicon Strip Cosmic Muon Detectors

silicon strip cosmic muon detector

An NNSS Site-Directed Research and Development (SDRD) project, led by Principal Scientist J. Andrew Green, has been selected as a finalist for a 2018 R&D 100 Award. The project, silicon strip cosmic muon detectors, registers muon occurrences, enabling muon trackers to detect shielded nuclear materials, explosives and other items of interest.

“It’s an extraordinary accomplishment to see this technology emerge from the world of high-energy physics, colliders and the like, and into significant homeland security applications and be recognized as such by the R&D 100 [Awards] Committee,” said Howard Bender, SDRD program manager.

Maritime security is becoming an increasingly important issue for our nation. Nearly seven million cargo containers arrive annually in American seaports. Our enemies could use these containers to smuggle nuclear weapons or special nuclear material into our country.

Concrete, lead and other materials can conceal these threats from radiation detectors and X-ray scanners. Muons (secondary particles that travel down to the Earth’s surface, arriving at a wide variety of angles and energies when cosmic rays collide with the Earth’s atmosphere) can penetrate these shields, and a muon tracker can inform threat vs. non-threat scenarios. Silicon strip muon detectors are an enabling technology for muon trackers, thereby aiding our nation’s homeland security.

Green, along with two co-workers and several collaborators from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), have improved on drift tube–based technology that has been used in muon detector systems. With a slim profile, silicon strip muon detectors can be stealthily embedded in structures or vehicles. Lightweight silicon strip detectors are easily handled or transported by humans or robots. Their precision dramatically reduces tracking and calibration software requirements. Furthermore, without the high voltage and potentially flammable gas used in drift tubes, these detectors can be deployed without safety concerns. With silicon strip muon detectors, the potential applications are endless.

The NNSS has previously won three R&D 100 awards (High-Resolution Holography Lens, Multiplexed Photonic Doppler Velocimeter, and Geometrically Enhanced Photocathodes), and was a finalist for the Argus Fisheye Probe. The NNSS collaborated with LANL on two R&D 100 winners – MOXIE (movies of extreme imaging experiments) and KiloPower.

The R&D 100 Awards Committee and R&D Magazine recently announced the 2018 R&D 100 Award finalists, marking the 56th year of the program. The prestigious R&D 100 Awards honor the most innovative technologies of the past year. The finalists were selected by an independent panel of more than 50 judges representing R&D leaders in a variety of fields. This year’s R&D 100 winners will be announced at the annual black-tie awards dinner on Nov. 15 at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando in Orlando, Fla.

NNSS teams recognized with NNSA Defense Programs Awards of Excellence

2017 DP Awards
U1a Complex Hazard Category 2 Upgrade Team

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) presented Defense Programs Awards of Excellence at the end of September to four NNSS teams for their excellent work in support of the Stockpile Stewardship program. Dr. Kathleen Alexander, NNSA Assistant Deputy Administrator for the Office of Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation, handed out the awards at the NNSS' North Las Vegas Facility.

“I recognize that I am here to give out specific awards, but I want to thank each of you for all you do,” Dr. Alexander said. “Important work happens here in Nevada. I am very proud of what we accomplish, and you should be as well.”

Prior to handing out the awards, Dr. Alexander honored LaTonya Burke for her many years of coordinating the award nominations and ceremonies for the NNSS. LaTonya received a Defense Programs coin, an Award of Excellence and an NNSA Administrator’s Achievement Award.

Pictured are the Defense Programs Awards of Excellence honorees. With the teams are Nevada Field Office Manager Steve Lawrence, Misson Support and Test Services President Mark Martinez and Dr. Alexander.

2017 DP Awards
Consolidated Edison Uranium Solidification Project Integrated Project Team (Exceptional Achievement project)
2017 DP Awards
Subcritical Experiment Analysis Team
2017 DP Awards
Vega Subcritical Experiment Team

Community Analysis Committee Members

Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board conducts community analysis survey

The DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) recently received positive feedback and recommendations from the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board (NSSAB) stemming from an almost year-long community analysis project conducted by the Board to determine the knowledge, interest levels, concerns, and successfulness of existing community outreach efforts as they relate to DOE’s EM Nevada Program activities at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

In November 2017 and at the request of the DOE, the NSSAB’s eight-person Community Analysis Committee (CAC) began designing and implementing an analysis program which resulted in collecting feedback from 180 Southern Nevada respondents via online, in-person interviews, and mailed surveys over the span of eight months.

The feedback confirmed communities are aware of the environmental remediation work at the NNSS and are eager for opportunities to learn more. Overall, the NSSAB was complimentary of the DOE’s extensive and diverse outreach efforts and gave recommendations for how it could be further enhanced.

View from NSSAB’s Community Analysis Committee Chair, Dick Stephans:

The Community Analysis Committee developed local newspaper articles and presentations to senior centers, veterans groups, libraries, and other community venues; and posted notices to generate public interest in the survey. Additionally, committee member Dick Twiddy went to the Clark County Fair in Logandale and administered the survey to fair goers utilizing his cell phone and tablet. These efforts gave insight into how the NNSS is viewed by Southern Nevada residents and their awareness of the activities happening at the NNSS.

The community analysis survey helped provide useful recommendations and considerations to enhance an already robust EM Nevada Program outreach schedule. The survey further produced demographic information that the EM Nevada Program may use in the future. Additionally, the Committee developed lessons learned that can be applied to future NSSAB efforts.

“By asking the NSSAB to complete this analysis, the DOE was hoping to gain a better understanding on the actual level of interest and concern communities near the NNSS have on clean-up activities and how our existing outreach program could be enhanced. The NSSAB was the perfect entity to complete this analysis because they are the community,” said Kelly Snyder, EM Nevada Public Affairs Director.

Even though the overall level of concern was considered neutral, contaminated groundwater was the area with the highest level of interest for survey respondents. The responses to the survey indicated that the community outreach events, such as DOE’s Groundwater Open Houses, have been successful and community members would like to see additional events. As such, the DOE EM Nevada Program is hosting a groundwater-focused Community Conversations event in Amargosa Valley and Beatty on October 16. Additional information for Community Conversations can be found using the following link: http://www.nnss.gov/pages/PublicAffairsOutreach/UpcomingPublicEvents.html.

Transportation of radioactive waste to the NNSS also ranked as a topic with strong community interest. The NSSAB recommended this outreach need be addressed by distributing already available materials during all public meetings, through email, news outlets, social media, and traditional advertisements.

Lastly, even though results of the survey show that represented communities are generally satisfied with the level of outreach and available information, community outreach is still something the public is eager to see increased. Specifically, there were suggestions on expanding outreach through attending more county commission meetings, speaking at local community oriented meetings, and conservation club meetings. DOE recently acted upon this recommendation by attending a Beatty Town Advisory Board meeting on September 10, a Nye County Commission meeting on September 18, and hosted a “Table Talk” at the Amargosa Senior Center on September 21.

“By focusing on these areas of recommendation,” said Snyder, “the EM Nevada Program has a great opportunity to further expand the public’s knowledge of NNSS remediation activities and what the DOE is doing to ensure the safety of the public, workers, and the environment.”

To view the formal recommendation and supporting material, visit the NSSAB’s website at: http://www.nnss.gov/nssab/pages/Rec_FY18.htm.

NNSS Aviation Team receives top Federal Aviation Award


The Nevada National Security Site Aviation team was awarded the top 2018 Federal Aviation Award in the Small Program Category. Hosted by the General Services Administration, the Sept. 13 awards ceremony was held at the Helicopter International Association Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. It recognized both large and small programs in the federal government for their operational excellence and safety performance, as well as top aviation management and safety professionals.

The NNSS team was selected from among 17 other Federal Program nominees as the best aviation program in the federal government in the small category. This award represents the fourth time this distinguished honor has been bestowed upon the NNSS Aviation team in the past 16 years. One of the many reasons cited for this accomplishment was the unique partnership between the federal and contractor team members responsible for management and oversight of the program, which has ensured a safety record of more than 23 consecutive years of flying without an accident or incident.