“The success of this project is built upon a foundation of teamwork and the contributions of many federal, contractor and regulatory staff, and intergovernmental partners that led to the technical, risk- informed strategies through which project completion was accelerated and cost-savings achieved. Most importantly, all work was safely completed with no OSHA-recordable injuries and worker exposures were minimized through careful planning such that none exceeded established safety limits.”
-Rob Boehlecke, EM Nevada Program Manager
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program recently completed the closure of the final Soils site at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) – a feat that is contributing to an estimated $67 million cost-savings and will trim the schedule to complete corrective actions at Soils sites by six years! This achievement was made possible by streamlining the closure process at multiple sites, negotiating closure strategies to be more in-line with worker and environmental risks associated with planned land use scenarios, and avoiding additional costs by obtaining earlier funding for several Soils sites. Soils sites are locations on the NNSS and the Air Force-controlled Nevada Test and Training Range where surface and shallow sub-surface soils were contaminated by historic nuclear testing activities conducted from 1951 until 1992.
Hundreds of women and men safely, professionally and efficiently completed this mission through their dedicated service, some who have supported activities at the NNSS for several decades. In addition to the NNSS scientists, technicians, laboratory support and a myriad of administrative staff, dozens of stakeholders throughout the years have helped shape the path to completion for the 138 contaminated Soils sites on the NNSS. Stakeholders include those representing the State of Nevada and U.S. Air Force, tribes, other intergovernmental liaisons, and members of the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board, a group that provides recommendations to the DOE EM Nevada Program.
The journey to complete these corrective actions began with characterizing the extent of soil contamination at the NNSS. The EM team used existing historic data wherever possible, including an expansive survey conducted from 1981 through 1986 to identify the level and location of radioactive contamination. This survey was followed by radiological surveys conducted in the 1990s by aircraft flying over the NNSS. This information aided in the identification of contaminated sites that are listed in the Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order, a legally-binding agreement signed in 1996 that outlines a schedule of cleanup and monitoring commitments.
While considerable characterization data had been collected, the biggest challenge to overcome was identifying the best remedy for contaminated surface and near-surface soils that cover approximately 6,000 acres on the NNSS. Considerations included worker risks, future land use, and the long-term protection of human health and the environment. Ultimately, through extensive coordination with stakeholders, a radiological dose-based cleanup remedy was selected and the federal and contractor team kicked into high gear in 2007. Other challenges followed and included the discovery of unexpected contaminants such as unexploded ordnance and hazardous waste – which were safely mitigated by the skilled and experienced field crews. Throughout the journey, the Soils team incorporated efficiencies to ensure the judicious use of taxpayer funding, such as validating aerial and terrestrial walkover surveys which resulted in reduced sampling.
The first NNSS Soils site to undergo investigation, remediation and closure was the T-1 site in June 2009. The T-1 site was the location of four different nuclear tests detonated from atop towers in the 1950s. Remediation activities conducted at that site include the removal and recycling of lead objects. The last of the NNSS Soils sites approved for closure at the end of February 2019, are a group of six sites where chemical and radiological contamination resulted primarily from weapons-related testing. For these sites and the others in between, reports are available that summarize the efforts of dedicated professionals who performed the necessary historical record searches, radiological surveys, sampling, analyses, remediation activities and documentation to support completion of the NNSS Soils sites. With the completion of the NNSS Soils Project, the team is focused on closing the final, six remaining Soils site on the Nevada Test and Training Range by the end of 2019.