The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) published its 2020 Year in Review, summarizing the cleanup work completed across the DOE complex over the course of the year. The DOE EM Nevada Program was counted among the sites that made significant progress, after marking several major milestones in furtherance of its cleanup mission during 2020. These accomplishments include:
- Completed the transfer of 70 closed cleanup sites on and around the Tonopah Test Range (TTR) to the DOE Office of Legacy Management (LM) – the first EM-to-LM transfer in more than a decade – a 2020 EM priority.
- Closed the Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain (RM/SM) and Yucca Flat/Climax Mine (YF/CM) groundwater areas, bringing 75 percent of all Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) groundwater areas to end-state completion.
- Safely and securely disposed ~500,000 cubic feet of classified low-level and mixed low-level radioactive waste in support of DOE sites involved with ongoing national security and science missions.
“This was a year of great challenges and great successes for EM Nevada. Not only did our program mark a major accomplishment by transferring our Tonopah Test Range sites to Legacy Management in less than half the time initially expected, we also drew significantly closer to completing our overall groundwater mission – an effort that promises to come in well ahead of schedule and well under budget. Through it all, the dedicated men and women of our program adapted to changing conditions and continued to execute our cleanup and waste acceptance missions safely, securely, and successfully. They have my thanks.”
– Rob Boehlecke, Program Manager, EM Nevada Program
TRANSFERRING SITES TO LEGACY MANAGEMENT
In 2020, the EM Nevada Program successfully transferred 70 remediated sites on and around Nevada’s historic TTR, a strategic location chosen by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1957 to test ballistics and nonnuclear features of atomic weapons, to LM for long-term stewardship. This accomplishment, completed in less than half the time initially estimated, was among EM’s ambitious priority items for 2020. Prior to transfer, EM Nevada completed cleanup activities at sites on and around TTR where contamination had resulted from historic nuclear weapons testing and support activities. The process to transition sites from EM to LM involved more than 100 unique actions across 10 key focus areas, including coordinating stakeholder commitments, transmitting more than 7,200 documents and records, and identifying and transferring existing infrastructure, such as fences and monuments. The transfer was officially complete on Sept. 30, 2020.
ACCELERATING GROUNDWATER CLOSURE
In 2020, the EM Nevada Program reached the final stage of groundwater activities – regulatory closure – at two of the three remaining underground test area corrective action regions at the NNSS. In April, EM Nevada earned regulatory approval for closure at the RM/SM groundwater area, a milestone reached three years ahead of schedule, saving $5 million.
In October, EM Nevada further achieved regulatory approval at the YF/CM groundwater area, bringing 75 percent of all NNSS groundwater regions to completion. Combined, these dual accomplishments cap off more than 35 years of testing, analysis, and modeling work in the Rainier Mesa and Yucca Flat groundwater areas, which have led the EM Nevada Program to an even better understanding of the nature and movement of groundwater beneath the NNSS.
To accelerate its groundwater mission safely and successfully, EM Nevada has broadly adopted the use of risk informed decision-making in the development of cleanup strategies, which prioritizes the protection of human health and the environment, while considering future land use. This approach is anticipated to accelerate the closure of all groundwater areas at the NNSS by two full years, and is estimated to save taxpayers around $80 million.
For more information on EM Nevada Program activities, please visit https://nnss.gov/programs/em/environmental-programs/.