Mission of the NNSS
The Nevada National Security Site and its related facilities help ensure the security of the United States and its allies by: supporting the stewardship of the nation’s nuclear deterrent; providing nuclear and radiological emergency response capabilities and training; contributing to key nonproliferation and arms control initiatives; executing national-level experiments in support of the National Laboratories; working with national security customers and other federal agencies on important national security activities; and providing long-term environmental stewardship of the NNSS’s Cold War legacy.
A Premier National Security Resource
Located in a remote, highly secure area of southern Nevada, the NNSS is a premier outdoor, indoor, and underground national laboratory. It is a preferred location for experiments supporting the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s nuclear weapons Stockpile Stewardship Programs, national defense programs, and national security research, development and training programs, as well as vital programs of other federal agencies.
1) Nuclear Weapons Science is experimental support for the Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure the nation’s remaining nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe, secure, and effective. These activities include breakthrough nuclear experiments, the use of world-class diagnostic measurement systems, high-tech computer simulations, and detailed engineering analysis;
2) Global and Homeland Security programs, including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) activities, nuclear nonproliferation and counter-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat reduction, nuclear and radiological emergency response, treaty verification and monitoring, sensor development, and cybersecurity; and
3) Environmental programs, which includes environmental protection, compliance, and monitoring of the air, land, water, plants, animals, and cultural resources at the NNSS; investigation and implementation of appropriate, cost-effective corrective actions to address legacy contamination from historic nuclear weapons testing at the site; and permanent disposal of low-level and mixed low-level radioactive waste generated by environmental clean-up activities at the NNSS and other sites across the nuclear weapons complex.
Larger than the state of Rhode Island, the 1,360-square-mile Nevada National Security Site is located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The contractor-operated site is overseen by the NNSA’s Nevada Field Office. Satellite offices are maintained in Los Alamos and Albuquerque, New Mexico; Santa Barbara and Livermore, California; Long Island, New York; and Washington, D.C.
The scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technicians at the NNSS and its satellite locations partner with colleagues from across the National Security Enterprise, including the national laboratories and the defense and intelligence communities, to execute a multitude of high-level experimental, research, and training activities in support of national security.
History of the NNSS
Atmospheric and Underground Testing: On January 27, 1951, the first atmospheric nuclear test was detonated at the NTS, code-named “Able.” A total of 100 atmospheric tests were conducted at the NTS until July 1962. All atmospheric testing was banned on August 5, 1963, when the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed in Moscow, giving birth to the age of underground testing. The United States conducted 828 underground tests at the NTS. The last underground test, “Divider,” was conducted on September 23, 1992.
In the Beginning: After the first nuclear test at the Trinity Site in New Mexico, the United States moved its nuclear weapons experimentation program to the Pacific. Security and logistical issues quickly illustrated the need for a continental test site. After consideration of many possible sites, an Atomic Energy Commission meeting on December 12, 1950, concluded that the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range in Nevada satisfied nearly all of the established criteria for a continental proving ground. As a result, President Harry Truman authorized a 680-square mile section of the Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range in Southern Nevada as the Nevada Proving Grounds on December 18, 1950. In 1955, the name was changed to the Nevada Test Site (NTS).
The End of Nuclear Testing and the Start of Subcritical Experiments: After conducting 928 nuclear tests, full-scale nuclear testing came to an end in 1992 when the United States entered into the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban with Russia and France. In order for the United States to maintain the safety and reliability of its nuclear stockpile without conducting full-scale tests, subcritical experiments were initiated at the NTS. An experiment is considered subcritical if no critical mass is formed and no self-sustaining nuclear reaction occurs. Subcritical experiments occur more than 900 feet below ground at the U1a tunnel complex.
From NTS to NNSS: In 2010, the name was changed to the NNSS to more accurately reflect the evolving mission of the site. Although the storied Nevada Test Site had a long history of supporting national security through full-scale atmospheric and underground nuclear testing, the last test occurred in 1992 following the signing of a nuclear weapons test ban treaty. Since that time, the nuclear weapons mission at the site has evolved to include subcritical experiments and other Stockpile Stewardship Programs designed to ensure the Nation’s remaining nuclear weapons remains safe, secure, and effective without full-scale nuclear testing. In addition, the emergence of global and homeland security threats has resulted in a further shift in the Site’s mission toward planning, experimentation and training to prevent and counter global and homeland security threats. Today, those activities comprise more than 50 percent of the site’s mission, providing ample justification for the name change.
NNSA Nevada Field Office
In 2000, the NNSA was created by Congress as a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy, responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear energy. The Nevada Operations Office was renamed the NNSA Nevada Field Office as part of this change. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing, works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction, provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion, and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the
United States and abroad.
For more information, please visit the NNSA website.
Office of Environmental Management - Nevada Program
Mission Support and Test Services, LLC
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management was established in 1989 to address the nation’s Cold War environmental legacy resulting from five
decades of nuclear weapons production and government-sponsored nuclear energy research. The Environmental Management Nevada Program completes investigations and implementation of appropriate, cost-effective corrective actions to address legacy contamination from historic nuclear weapons testing at the site; and permanent disposal of
low-level radioactive waste, mixed low-level radioactive waste, and classified waste generated by environmental clean-up activities at the NNSS and other sites across the nuclear weapons complex.
MSTS is a limited liability company consisting of Honeywell International Inc., Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., and HII Nuclear, Inc. With some 2,400 employees, MSTS manages operations at the NNSS and at its related facilities and laboratories for the NNSA’s Nevada Field Office. The company has satellite offices in Los Alamos and Albuquerque, New Mexico; Santa Barbara and Livermore, California; Long Island, New York; and Washington, D.C., along with a small number of employees located in nine other states.