NNSS News (July - September 2022)

Nevada National Security Site releases 2021 environmental report

cover of NNSSER

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) released its annual environmental report for 2021, now available online at http://www.nnss.gov/pages/resources/library/NNSSER.html.

The 2021 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 2021 to protect the environment and the public while achieving our mission goals,” said NNSA/NFO 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.

Smaller experiments, bigger discoveries: How subcritical experiments enable smarter stockpile stewardship

Nearly 1,000 feet below the Earth’s surface, in a state-of-the-art underground laboratory – and 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas – Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) and National Laboratory scientists conduct small-scale physics experiments to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

underground tunnel in the U1a complex at the NNSS
Underground tunnel at the U1a Complex at the Nevada National Security Site.

The vital national security work is a vast departure from underground, full-scale nuclear tests at the NNSS, formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, that ceased with the last test on Sept. 23, 1992.

Enter, subcritical experiments.

Backed by scientific advancement, and using cutting-edge computer and predictive modeling, scientists are able to ensure the nation’s nuclear warheads meet performance requirements, without ever creating a sustained nuclear chain reaction.

“At the NNSS, we provide a safe and secure platform for testing components that make up nuclear weapons, and subcritical experiments are a key part of that testing,” said Mark Krauss, Senior Director for Stockpile Experimentation at the NNSS. “Subcritical experiments give us the data and confidence to assure that the weapons would perform reliably.”

Today, on a small scale, subcritical physics experiments use chemical high explosives to generate extreme heat and pressures that are applied to special nuclear materials. Unlike the above- and belowground full-scale tests of the Cold War-era, the configuration and quantities of the weapons-relevant materials do not allow a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, or criticality, to occur.

“It turns out that the information we can extract from a single subcritical experiment – with the technology we’ve developed over the past three decades – actually surpasses in a pretty great magnitude the data we were able to collect from full-scale tests,” said Michael Hanache, NNSS Principal Scientist. “It’s about doing it in a smarter, more intelligent and a much safer way.”

The data generated from today’s experiments – conducted in partnership with scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration – are used to refine the current nuclear weapons codes, which enables better predicative capability and ensures confidence in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Much like a doctor formulates a diagnosis when you’re sick, based on the most current medical knowledge, scientists take the data from these experiments and ask questions to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

“If we want to measure velocity, for example, we can interrogate a moving surface with a laser,” said Marylesa Howard, a mathematician and Manager at the NNSS. “The light returning to the system is Doppler-shifted and we can determine the change in frequency of the reflected light, using physics and mathematics models to calculate its speed.”

By 2025, the data will reach new heights as the NNSS will be home to Scorpius, the most advanced weapons radiographic system in the world.

experiment diagnostic rack and vessel at the U1a Complex
Experiment diagnostic rack and vessel at the U1a Complex.

“Sometimes, we will want to answer questions that we don’t currently have the capability of answering,” Hanache said. “It’s about developing new systems that are able to probe new pieces of information, so that we can expand our own capabilities to answer more questions more effectively.”

Three decades after full-scale tests ended, the NNSS is readying the underground laboratory, called the U1a Complex, to house Scorpius, which will enable experiments that image special nuclear material during multiple stages of detonation, filling a gap in data collection and analysis. Scorpius is a pulsed-power accelerator that will capture a series of fast-paced X-ray images during dynamic experiments which simulate the moments preceding the initiation of a nuclear explosion. The U1a Complex is the only place in the nation where high-hazard, high-explosive testing can be conducted with plutonium and other special nuclear materials.

In recent weeks, the U1a Complex has become a hub of activity as the next phase of the U1a Complex Enhancement Project gets underway. The major, $560 million construction project will install the infrastructure that will support Scorpius and the future of experimentation at U1a.

“We have multiple testbeds coming online with plans for experiments for the next 20 years, at least,” said Rand Kelly, NNSS Principal Scientist. “Combined with our current experimental capabilities, the new testbeds will bridge several different regimes of testing capabilities.”

The work is important on a global scale, too. Subcritical experiments enable NNSS scientists to advance global security through nuclear nonproliferation, ensuring that instruments and technologies are ready and capable of monitoring nuclear testing that occurs outside the bounds of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“We don’t ever want to go back to that Cold War-era posture,” said Howard. “We’re here to help protect our nation and allies by making an effort of deterrence and ensure a more common ground for peace moving forward.”

Two “Heroes” bring skills to NNSS through fellowship program

Hiring Our Heroes logo

“All I can really say is that [serving in the military] is what you make it. If you go in with a positive mindset, then you will have a great experience, meet people who turn into your family and create lasting friendships,” says Adora Clark, a soon-to-be veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Hiring Our Heroes Fellow.

Clark brought her positivity and experience to the NNSS in May as one of two fellows.

She was exposed to the military at a young age and watched as her stepdad spent his career in the U.S. Marines. When it came time for Clark to determine what she would do after high school, she knew she would enlist in the Armed Forces. She had hopes of attending college but financially, it was not an option. She knew the military would allow her to have an impactful and rewarding career.

Following high school, Clark immediately enlisted. She sought the unknown, choosing not to follow in her stepdad’s footsteps of being a Marine. Six years in the Air Force left Clark with a lifetime’s worth of comradery and memories.

“The hardest part of retiring is leaving your friends who turned into family,” she said. “The relationships you make while in the military are something impossible to explain to civilians. You will never understand what it means to have someone’s back through and through while deployed. And that is what I am going to miss.”

Clark’s military experience as a staff sergeant in security directly relates to the line of work she performed in her fellowship working for the NNSS Safeguards and Security department in the Badge Office.

Jeremy Cunningham, also an NNSS Hiring Our Heroes Fellow, retires from the U.S. Air Force Oct. 1 after spending 20 years and 21 days serving our country.

Jeremy Cunningham in flight suit in front of military plane
Jeremy Cunningham

For Cunningham, there was no doubt in his mind whether he should enlist or not. He comes from a military family with relatives in the Army, Marines and Navy. However, he was the first in his family to join the Air Force.

“I knew I didn’t want to go on to college – it wasn’t the path for me,” Cunningham said. “I was done with school and counting down the days until I turned 18, so I could go to basic training. Once I was at my first base, the first thing the military did – put me in college.”

Cunningham attended technical school while based at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He was trained in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and spent the entirety of his career in the EOD field.

During Cunningham’s 20 years of military service, he was based in Texas, Florida, Idaho and Nevada. His deployments took him to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. He also was part of high-level details for U.S. presidents, including visits to France with Pres. George W. Bush, Nigeria and Canada with Pres. Barack Obama and, his final detail, Italy with Pres. Joe Biden.

“I am going to miss the people,” Cunningham said. “The military truly is a family. When you’re deployed and in a difficult situation, your unit turns into more than just colleagues, which is why I always say, the military is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. If you don’t know it going in, you are definitely going to understand it once you’re there.”

Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to connect veterans, service members and military spouses with various employment opportunities. The 12-week program aims to create a movement in communities across America where veterans and military families return to the civilian workforce smoothly.

Nevada National Security Site receives EPEAT Purchaser Award for sustainability in IT

gold EPEAT plaque on desk in front of computer monitors

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has been recognized as a 2022 EPEAT Purchaser Award winner, which celebrates leaders in sustainable electronics procurement. The award comes from the Global Electronics Council (GEC), the non-profit organization that manages the EPEAT ecolabel.

“It is an honor to receive such an important award for the NNSS and to be recognized as a leader in sustainable IT procurement,” said Doug Neumann, Deputy CIO, Information Technology/Cyber Security at NNSS. “This EPEAT Award recognizes the hard work and dedication that we have focused on for many years to achieve environmentally responsible IT purchasing throughout our organization.”

The EPEAT Purchaser Award recognizes organizations for excellence in sustainable procurement of electronic equipment identified as more energy efficient, less toxic, longer lasting, and easier to recycle than products that do not meet EPEAT criteria, while also addressing labor and human rights issues along the entire supply chain.

Ron Duplex, Principal Infrastructure Analyst at NNSS, said, “The challenges of the supply chain currently focus the NNSS on key strategies to ensure deliverables are met, leading the site to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact, increase energy efficiencies and realize economic benefits. Despite the challenges, it is always the right time to do the right thing.”

Among other measurable environmental impacts, NNSS’ sustainable purchasing throughout 2021 reduced greenhouse gases by 268 thousand kilograms and saved more than 1 million kilowatt hours of energy—equivalent to taking 57 average U.S. passenger vehicles off the road for a year, and saving enough electricity to power 102 average U.S. households.

The awards were formally announced at a virtual ceremony on July 28, 2022. Find out more about the GEC EPEAT Awards at their website.

EPEAT sustainability and cost savings chart

Navarro awards STEM education grants to three Nevada schools

group of students hold mini robots
Carlin Combined School students enhance their hands-on coding experience while programming the robots they are holding in this picture.

Contractor to U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management funds local classroom STEM activities; Grant application period for next calendar year now open

Navarro Research and Engineering Inc., a woman-owned small business contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM), today announced three Nevada schools have been awarded classroom funding through the company’s new Community Commitment Grants Program. The grants program, in its inaugural year, is specifically designed to support educational activities that promote learning related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in communities near the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

The three schools receiving funding for the 2022 calendar year are: Carlin Combined School in Carlin, Nevada, in the Elko County School District; Lied STEM Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada, in the Clark County School District; and Manse Elementary School in Pahrump, Nevada, in the Nye County School District.

With the initial round of grants awarded, Navarro further announced that the next application period is now open for the 2023 Community Commitment Grants Program cycle. Educators are encouraged to apply. Please see below for further information on grant eligibility and selection criteria.

“As a woman in a STEM field myself, I am proud that our new grants program supports Secretary Granholm’s vision for the Department of Energy and its contractors to play a lead role in breaking down barriers to increase access to STEM-based curriculum nationwide,” said Dr. Susana Navarro, President, CEO, and founder of Navarro. “We know that when we get children of all backgrounds interested in STEM at a young age, they are much more likely to go on to participate in highly skilled, highly rewarding STEM careers as adults. I thank these three schools for their impressive applications, and I look forward to seeing the incredible things teachers will do with this funding in the classroom.”

Robert Boehlecke, Program Manager for the DOE EM Nevada Program, noted that Navarro’s investment in local STEM education will help open the door to potential future career opportunities at the NNSS for local young people. “Much of the work we do at the site is very technical in nature and requires specialized education, training, and skills to get the job done,” said Boehlecke. “I am grateful to Navarro for doing their part to foster the development of a talented next generation workforce that will be ready and able to support the Department’s various missions here in Nevada and all across the nation.”

Navarro selected the three 2022 grant recipients from a pool of 16 applications through a blind-scoring process that evaluated total benefit to student learning in the classroom. Each of the three school’s proposed projects will be fully funded by Navarro this school year, for a total investment of nearly $14,000.

Carlin Combined School will use its awarded funding to purchase equipment and materials to enhance an existing program that brings Wonder Workshop robots into the classroom to teach computer coding through hands-on learning. Carlin has launched this unique program at the elementary school level with plans to evaluate the approach for broader application to the full K-12 student enrollment. Carlin teachers Karleighn Goodale and Brande Johnson said, “STEM is an integral part of our K-12 education at Carlin Combined School, and we are thrilled to add visual art as a part of our coding curriculum.”

Lied STEM Academy will use its grant funding to implement Green Our Planet’s Hydroponics STEM Program. Lied administrators had been working with Green Our Planet for over a year to launch the program. The grant awarded by Navarro will provide the seed funding to make the project a reality. “Lied STEM Academy is honored to receive this grant awarded by Navarro,” said Lied Stem Academy Principal Derek Fialkiewicz. “We are excited to use this funding to continue innovating within education. This grant will assist us in providing our students opportunities for success in education and beyond.”

Manse Elementary School will put its funding to work to establish a second dedicated STEM class at the school. Manse educators plan to incorporate materials from Hand2Mind and Kinderlab Robotics to create an immersive STEM classroom experience for students. Manse Elementary School Teacher Jeanette Ogden said, “I feel strongly that, long-term, this STEM class will provide students with real-world skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork that are necessary to become successful in any career field or life situation. Thank you to Navarro for supporting our vision.”

Navarro would like local schools to know that the application period for the 2023 Community Commitment Grants Program cycle is now open. Eligibility includes all public, private, and charter schools in the counties of Clark, Elko, Esmeralda, Lincoln, Nye, and White Pine in Nevada. Grants are expected to be awarded in early 2023. Preference will be given to applications supporting clearly defined STEM-based activities. For additional instructions to complete a grant application, please visit https://navarro-inc.com/navarro-community-commitment-grants-program/.

For more information on the DOE EM Nevada Program, please visit https://www.energy.gov/em/nevada-national-security-site-nnss.

For more information on Navarro, please visit Navarro Research & Engineering, Inc. (navarro-inc.com).

MSTS receives DOE Star of Excellence

group of MSTS employees in red shirts receiving VPP Star of Excellence plaque in ballroom
MSTS representatives receive the Star of Excellence plaque from DOE's Office of Worker Safety and Health Assistance Director Brad Davy.

Mission Support and Test Services has been awarded the Department of Energy Voluntary Protection Program (DOE-VPP) Star of Excellence.

“This is an exemplary achievement, especially given the stressors of the current pandemic and growth in work at the NNSS,” said Stacey Alderson, Director of Environmental, Safety and Health. “MSTS employees’ continued dedication to performance and safety while facing complications like these is what won this award, and I thank everybody for creating and contributing to the culture that made it possible.”

The Star of Excellence is the highest level of achievement awarded by DOE-VPP. It is given to sites which achieve injury, illness and lost work day rates at least 75 percent below the Bureau of Labor Statistics national average for their industry code, meet annual DOE VPP goals, and demonstrate strong involvement in the VPP Participants Association, VPP mentoring and outreach. The award recognizes these accomplishments at all MSTS-managed sites and facilities, including not only the Site itself and the North Las Vegas Facility, but all outlying locations as well.

a closeup of the Star of Excellence plaque
Star of Excellence plaque

“No matter where in the country you are, if you’re part of MSTS, that commitment to excellence is there,” said Alderson, “And it shows.”

Learn more about DOE-VPP and the Star of Excellence award.

NNSS groundwater program welcomes peer review team

group of people observing a well at the NNSS
The reviewers observe a well at the Pahute Mesa groundwater area at the NNSS.

Four-day event brought groundwater experts to town

From July 18-21, four peer reviewers joined the EM Nevada Program in Las Vegas to participate in technical briefings, presentations, and a tour of the Pahute Mesa groundwater region at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). This nationally recognized group of experts will examine the computer modeling approach developed to estimate forecast groundwater movement and contaminant boundaries in the Pahute Mesa region. To promote stakeholder involvement, members of the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board also participated, as did representatives from Nye County and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

Under review is the Pahute Mesa (PM) Flow and Transport Model Report (FTMR)—a set of conclusions based on complex geologic and mathematical models of groundwater flow and contaminant transport. Over 30 years of intensive drilling, data collection, analysis and modeling went into the making of the model. NNSS scientists use such models to analyze the movement of radioactive contaminants in groundwater.

“We were thrilled to welcome the peer review team to review our newest models and observe our work in the field,” said Ken Rehfeldt, Underground Test Area (UGTA) Project Manager for Navarro Research and Engineering, independent contractor to the DOE. “These models simulate groundwater movement under a wide range of variables and permutations, and they are extremely valuable in ensuring our communities are safe and secure for generations to come.”

man in green shirt and hat talks to group outside at the NNSS
UGTA Project Manager Ken Rehfeldt addresses the group at Oasis Valley.

Peer reviewers representing the fields of geochemistry, hydrology, hydrogeology and computer modeling that included expertise in using scientific results to make regulatory decisions, gathered for the first two days in the Molasky Center in Las Vegas. They heard presentations and participated in discussions surrounding the Pahute Mesa region, the last open groundwater correction action units at the NNSS. Experts from the EM Nevada Program presented their findings and projections for groundwater movement. The third day saw the group begin their trip to the field, touring Pahute Mesa and a small portion of the Nevada Test and Training Range. On the final day the group traveled to Oasis Valley, observing the principal discharge area for the groundwater basin and notable geological formations, well sites, and monitoring activities in this area.

Current research and modeling forecasts show contaminated groundwater will not reach public water supplies. In 2020, the Rainier Mesa and Yucca Flat groundwater corrective action areas reached closure, successfully bringing 75 percent of all NNSS groundwater regions to end-state completion.

The panel will review the model and generate a final report with their findings and assessment of confidence by the end of September.

Groundwater experts in Nevada employ geophysical survey to determine groundwater flow

worker squatting in desert area of NNSS to record data
A worker records data received from the EM Nevada Program’s most recent geophysical survey at the fourth of four groundwater characterization areas of a portion of the Pahute Mesa at the Nevada National Security Site.

The U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management EM Nevada Program recently completed a unique survey involving electrical energy from a controlled source and audio frequency signals to explore the geology that controls groundwater flow patterns.

Explorations such as this—at the fourth of four groundwater characterization areas of a portion of the Pahute Mesa—are crucial to the program’s mission to continually monitor ground water on and around the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

The innovative, collaborative process will inform key EM decisions necessary to achieve regulatory closure at the Pahute Mesa groundwater area, ultimately promoting the protection of human health and the environment.

Previous wells drilled in and around the Pahute Mesa groundwater area have been deep wells, with depths greater than 5,000 feet below ground surface. Drilling to these depths is costly, so gathering as much data as possible is key to cost efficiency.

The Controlled-source Audio-frequency Magnetotellurics (CSAMT) survey can map to depths of around 3,000 feet. After reviewing the results of the survey along with existing sampling data and observations from other proximal wells, the program will be better positioned to determine whether and where to drill additional monitoring wells, which will be valuable long term in making informed decisions for a path forward for corrective actions in the Pahute Mesa groundwater area.

worker in orange vest places flags on Pahute Mesa area of NNSS
Using GPS, a worker places flags at fixed locations for the EM Nevada Program’s most recent geophysical survey on the Pahute Mesa on the Nevada National Security Site.

The CSAMT geophysics method uses electrical energy from a controlled source, varying the frequency signals into the ground from one location and measuring the received electric and magnetic fields in the area being studied. A transmitter is placed at a distance from the receiver, which can cover large areas. The CSAMT scan can be likened to an electrical version of a sonogram, which uses high-frequency sound waves.

This technology has been in use since 1978 and has been employed on the NNSS in the past. For the latest application at Pahute Mesa, crew members collected data every 100 meters along three receiver lines a certain distance from two fixed transmitter locations. From data collected, the team measured the electronic current’s resistance, and in turn, provided a snapshot of the geology below the ground’s surface.

Pahute Mesa is the third of four groundwater corrective action areas on the NNSS to go through the regulatory closure process. By the end of 2028, EM anticipates a safe, secure and successful transition of the Pahute Mesa groundwater corrective action area into long-term monitoring. This action will complete EM Nevada’s groundwater mission at the NNSS. It is anticipated that long-term stewardship responsibilities for closed groundwater corrective action areas will thereafter be transferred to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the NNSS.

To learn more about EM Nevada's environmental cleanup work at the NNSS, please visit: https://www.energy.gov/em/nevada-national-security-site-nnss.

Nevada National Security Site earns five-year contract extension

NNSS logo

Recognition of Site’s extraordinary national security contributions means billions for Southern Nevada

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has announced it will exercise Option Terms 1 through 5 of its contract with Mission Support and Test Services (MSTS), the management and operating contractor for the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). MSTS took over as the management and operating contractor on Dec. 1, 2017.

“Due to the exemplary efforts of our employees to reaffirm the NNSS as a place of dedication to national security, diversity, and innovation, the NNSS has grown from a $500 million a year enterprise to $1 billion annually in just the last five years,” said Mark W. Martinez, MSTS President. “My heartfelt congratulations and thanks to all of our employees for the work they do every day in service to our nation and the world at large, and my thanks to the NNSA for recognizing the importance of this work through this extension.”

The NNSS recently reached a significant construction milestone at its U1a underground laboratory with the completion of UCEP 10, a $50 million construction project that came in $3 million under budget and one year ahead of schedule. UCEP 20 has begun, which is the next phase of the construction project that will further expand underground subcritical experiments used to certify the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. UCEP has been a major factor in increased investment.

In addition to supporting the stewardship of the nuclear deterrent for the U.S. and its allies, the NNSS provides emergency response capability and training and contributes to key nonproliferation and arms control initiatives. It also supports national security customers through strategic partnerships and provides long-term environmental stewardship for site missions. Locally, NNSS provides substantial funding to support K-12 STEM initiatives—including First Robotics and Science Bowl—and university relationships.

NNSS hosts Romanian officials to share best practices in aerial radiation measuring

three men and a woman sit in a Bell 412 helicopter preparing for a flight
Piotr Wasiolek (second from left), manager of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team’s Aerial Measuring System assets, takes Romanian emergency response officials on a flight in the twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter.

Upon first glance, the box containing sodium iodide crystals capable of detecting radiation levels from a helicopter doesn’t look like much.

But the digital technology – a significant upgrade from analog systems of the past – can measure millions of counts of gamma rays per second following a radiological release, providing Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) scientists with extremely precise and critical data to help government officials make informed decisions in the event of an emergency.

It was one of the signature capabilities on display for Romanian emergency response officials during their tour of the Nevada National Security Site’s (NNSS) Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) in May.

“The system produced so much data that we needed more than one data processing team on the ground after the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan,” Piotr Wasiolek, manager of NEST’s Aerial Measuring System assets at RSL, explained to the group as they got an up-close look at the radiation detection system and the twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter that carries it.

NNSS hosted the Romanian delegation as part of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Office of Nuclear Incident Policy and Cooperation (NA-81) event. The weeklong visit, coupled with the delegation’s attendance at Cobalt Magnet 22 – a major radiological incident exercise hosted by NNSA in Austin, TX, in May – created an opportunity for the Romanian officials to learn what their government would need to do to step up their own aerial measurement capability. Officials also received a briefing from NEST’s Consequence Management team, which performs field monitoring and data assessment, and can provide an early characterization of a radiological situation.

Romania is a strong DOE/NNSA partner nation. In 2019, the country received a set of equipment from the U.S. Department of Energy for radiation detection from mobile platforms. Initially, Romanian emergency response officials used the equipment for ground surveys, but since the technology can be deployed on an aerial platform, they partnered with the United States for assistance in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The equipment and ongoing partnership are especially important as Romania operates a nuclear power station in Cernavoda that produces 18 percent of the country’s electricity, and neighboring countries have nuclear power stations as well.

a group of people posing in front of a Bell 412 helicopter
The Nevada National Security Site recently hosted Romanian emergency response officials for a weeklong visit to share best practices in aerial radiation measuring. On display was the Nuclear Emergency Support Team’s twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter, a signature capability.

“They may need to have the capability in place to take aerial measurements if an accident happens in that region,” Wasiolek said. “Consequence Management provides a first look at the extent of a release, and helps to quickly assess the scale of radiation activity.”

In addition to the aerial systems, NEST scientists gave the Romanian officials an inside look at the backpack systems designed and built in-house at the NNSS that enable scientists to see live data as they’re walking around and responding to a potential incident, or on the hunt for a dirty bomb.

The weeklong tour of the NNSS also included a helicopter flight over Government Wash, and myriad presentations, discussions, and demonstrations.

While this was the Romanian delegation’s first visit to the NNSS, these kinds of partnerships aren’t new, Wasiolek said.

In September 2022, NA-81 and the NNSS will host the 10th annual Aerial Measuring System International Technical Exchange. The event will provide the opportunity for open discussions on specific subjects related to aerial measurements by responders from other countries operating mature aerial measurements assets. Previous participants have included Norway, Sweden, Canada, France, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and the Czech Republic.

“These discussions are vitally important for learning best practices from one another in an effort to make our national security and our international collaborations stronger,” Wasiolek said.

1,000 feet below the Earth’s surface, NNSS hits construction milestone

six miners underground at U1a with large construction vehicle
Mining work is conducted underground at the U1a Complex.

Just as the sun peeked over the top of the warehouse, a new era began at the U1a Complex.

In late July, Nevada National Security Site leadership gathered with more than 200 craft workers, construction workers and facility support staff to formally kick off U1a Complex Enhancement Project (UCEP) 20, and to mark the end of the highly successful first phase.

The morning celebration ushered in the next phase – UCEP 20 – a major, $560 million construction project to install the infrastructure that will support the expansion of underground subcritical experiments at U1a. The first phase – UCEP 10 – a $50 million construction project came in $3 million under budget and one year ahead of schedule.

In recent years, Mission Support and Test Services (MSTS) leadership and employees have helped to grow the annual budget for the NNSS from $480 million to $920 million. UCEP has been a major factor in the additional investments. The NNSS also recently achieved certification from the U.S. Department of Energy for its Earned Value Management System – a project management system put in place to enable UCEP leaders to make high-quality decisions surrounding cost, schedule and risk.

“U1a is going to house one of the most important tools that the U.S. has to certify the nuclear weapons stockpile to be safe, secure and reliable,” said MSTS President Mark W. Martinez. “While we’re doing this vital work here, we’re also continuing to do all the subcritical experiments we were doing before, so everything is in addition to.”

miner underground at U1a working on tunnel ceiling
Infrastructure work continues as the Nevada National Security Site moves into the next phase of the U1a Complex Enhancement Project.

The second phase of the project will take about three years to complete and will involve hundreds of employees working both day and night shifts, amounting to 20 hours a day.

For Steve Cherry, Director of Construction, that means one thing rises to the surface above all else: safety.

“We’re going to have more get-togethers like this, we’re going to celebrate as we go, we’re going to work together as a team, and we’re going to be one unit to successfully bring in UCEP and all the projects that we’re doing here,” Cherry said. “Let’s take the time to make sure we have everything right. Our work packages, our sequence of work, but also making sure we got our workmates taken care of as well.”

Roger Rocha, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for MSTS, agreed. “We have to remember that what we do for the nation here is truly critical, but how we do it is absolutely essential. We have to do it safely,” he said.

Interested in being part of the national security work we’re doing? The NNSS is hiring talented, hardworking individuals to join our team at U1a. Check out hot new jobs, including Principal Work Planner, Scientist II, Senior Mechanical Engineer and Principal Nuclear Facility Operations Specialist. Find more opportunities at NNSS.gov/jobs.

Private defense company to test leading edge technologies at the NNSS

black drone in flight over desert
An Anduril Ghost drone in flight

As technology marches on, the limit of what is possible and what is not is increasingly defined less by hardware and more by the software behind it. Anduril, a privately-owned defense products company, is on the front line of a new generation of defense contractors. Its focus is on achieving advances in software engineering and computing rather than, say, shipbuilding or aircraft design. To achieve these breakthroughs, Anduril has some unique requirements for airspace testing—requirements that they will meet through an agreement with the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

“This partnership between the NNSS and Anduril is one of many upcoming collaborations with private companies actively engaged in today’s and tomorrow’s national security work,” said Mission Support and Test Services' President Mark W. Martinez. “The NNSS offers an unmatched testing theater with advantages our partners would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else: talented experts, restricted airspace, secure controlled environments, around-the-clock access and, of course, plenty of clear skies and sunshine.”

As part of this new NNSS-Anduril partnership, NNSS has made available land and airspace for Anduril R&D and testing. In addition to Anduril, the NNSS hosts a number of other national security partners from the federal government and the private sector. Products Anduril may test at NNSS include the Ghost and ALTIUS autonomous air systems, both powered by Anduril’s proprietary Lattice OS.

“Operating at NNSS will allow Anduril to test a wider variety of capabilities owing to its more permissive airspace restrictions,” said Matt Grimm, Anduril’s Chief Operating Officer. “At NNSS we aren’t sharing our airspace with commercial aircraft, so the sorts of things we can test and test with regularity are far wider.”

Anduril currently supports operations with the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Australian Defence Force, the U.K. Ministry of Defense, and other partners around the world. Mission Support and Test Services LLC is the management and operating contractor for the NNSS. Learn more about NNSS partnerships and agreements on the Work With Us page. For more information on Anduril, its products and its mission, visit anduril.com.

Home-grown health physicist RaJah Mena inspires future women scientists

two women at table and one showing on TV screen in a conference room
RaJah Mena (center) speaks during the Women in Science panel as Laura Tomlinson (left) and Dr. Baolin Cheng (right, on screen) look on.

RaJah Mena is part of an exclusive group, but she doesn’t want to be.

As one of the few radiation health physicists in Nevada, whose work with the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has helped to keep communities safe from radiological emergencies, Mena knows firsthand how important it is for the gap in her field to be filled.

“We are in dire need – cross agency, cross country,” Mena told attendees at a Women in Science panel hosted by the National Atomic Testing Museum last month. “If something bad happens, whether there’s radiological material that goes missing, or we think about the worst-case, that something actually happens, someone has to respond.”

Mena shared her experience as a manager of NNSS Consequence Management – and her team’s response to the Woolsey fire in California in 2018 – to inspire young women to consider careers in science. She was joined on the panel by Jill Hruby, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and Dr. Baolin Cheng, Los Alamos National Laboratory Senior Weapon Physicist. Each panelist spoke about their critical work in securing the safety of the United States and its allies, and participated in a discussion led by moderator Laura Tomlinson, Deputy Manager of the NNSA’s Nevada Field Office.

“Members of our team across the enterprise do everything from atmospheric modeling, to collecting samples, and ultimately relating those things back some sort of a decision that people have to make, because that’s the goal,” Mena said. “The goal is that you have a governor who yesterday only knew floods, fires and hurricanes, and now they have to sleep at night knowing that they made decisions on radiation impacts they never heard of.”

Mena shared how her team was able to provide critical information and allay any fears to the state of California and government leaders when the Woolsey fire began to encroach on a now-defunct field laboratory that used to process radiological material.

“People were super concerned, reasonably, that maybe if the fire encroached on that land, that maybe some of that material that’s in the soil, in the trees, and buildings, could be caught up in the fire and maybe even in the atmosphere,” Mena said, adding that the NNSS has the largest share of on-call responders who are able to do this type of work.

Ultimately, their scientific analysis showed California emergency officials that there wasn’t a concern for public health or safety.

“The point of what we’re doing is making sure that we’re answering all the questions, and making sure people are safe,” she said.

The female students in attendance are starting their careers similar to how Mena did. A local Las Vegas resident, and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Mena wanted to spark the same excitement she had at the beginning of her career.

She encouraged the young women to apply for internships, enroll in electives and join extracurricular groups.

“Take advantage of internships,” Mena said. “Do all of them. Expand your horizons – take all of the electives you possibly can. And my fellow nerds: talk to people!”

Veolia trains with hazardous chemicals at one-of-a-kind NNSS facility

Training prepares students to fight accidental spills involving toxic materials.

With his hand covered in a bright green glove, and in full, head-to-toe protective gear, Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Field Technician Shane Hodge reached into the top of the tank containing fuming sulfuric acid and turned the valve to the right.

It was the first in a series of steps that would transport the highly hazardous chemical down a pipe and into a controlled spill pan, giving students the opportunity to learn how to properly fight and clean up the material in the event of an accidental release.

“We supply the area for the students to work, create the ideal conditions for the training to take place, and they fight it,” said Kylief Tucker, Facility Manager for the Nonproliferation Test and Evaluation Complex (NPTEC) at the NNSS. “It’s the only place in the world where this kind of work can take place.”

The students came to the NNSS in June as part of a two-week, intensive training course for Veolia, which produces large amounts of highly toxic chemicals including oleum, chlorosulfuric acid and sulfur trioxide. These products are shipped via rail, truck, ships, and portable tank to customers both inside and outside of the United States. Small amounts of these chemicals are used in surfactants, which can be found in everyday essential products like shampoos and soaps, and in countless other consumer products that companies make across the country.

students in protective suits spraying a powder-like substance from hoses
Students douse the chemical with Spill X – a powder-like substance that neutralizes and solidifies the acid.

Due to the nature of the materials, spills in transit or at production facilities possess a high potential to produce a massive vapor cloud. Such spills could endanger employees who work with the chemicals, and could pose a risk to the broader public. The topography, wind predictability and location of NPTEC offers partners like Veolia a secure, controlled, and realistic environment for training students in how to mitigate those risks. All projects are conducted within environmental and safety regulations.

“We’ve shown over the years that the training at the NNSS is highly effective in reducing the severity of unintended releases,” said Brad Van Scoik, Operations Chief for Veolia. He said the company has used the services at NPTEC every two to three years since 1992.

The field training provides responders with hands-on practice so that when they’re called upon to respond in real-time to a spill, they have practical experience to back them up. Veolia, which specializes in environmental solutions, offers the training to its own employees, customers who use the products, and transportation and hazmat crews as part of its product stewardship mission to prevent spills and to develop safe spill remediation procedures.

From the control room, a couple hundred feet from the exercise area, NNSS Engineer Ryan Jensen and NNSS Training Specialist Larry Platte kept a diligently close watch on the computer screens in front of them. Data from weather stations across NPTEC capture the wind speed and direction, and populate the digital compass.

students in protective suits spraying firefighting foam from hoses
Course participants learn how to mitigate a hazardous chemical spill using firefighting foam.

“It’s green,” said Platte. “We’re in the window.”

Winds must come from the southwest and be sustained for 30 minutes at 2 meters per second or higher in order for the exercise to be a go. That ensures the safety of all students and NNSS personnel on site.

“The system is armed, valves are open, the tank is pressurized,” Jensen relayed to the NNSS team.

He clicked a button on the process control system – and then a second pop-up to confirm his decision – to open the final valve, which released the fuming sulfuric acid. It was the first practice spill of the day.

Four students formed the strike team. Clothed in chemical-resistant, fully encapsulated suits fashioned with a breathing apparatus, members of the team approached as the chemical hit the spill pan, and a massive, white cloud ballooned into the air.

Using fire hoses in a sweeping, back-and-forth motion, the team first hit the acid with water in an effort to dilute the chemical, which can reach over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next, they doused the chemical with Spill X – a powder-like substance that neutralizes and solidifies the acid.

students in protective suits shower after mitigating a spill
Students dressed in chemical-resistant, fully encapsulated suits practice taking showers after learning how to mitigate a spill.

It took only a few minutes for the team to neutralize the material to a pH level of 8 – the magic number is anywhere between a pH of 2 and 12 – and then shoveled the now-safe material into waste barrels.

“Every time we come out here we’re learning new techniques and trying new things to make sure we stay on the cutting edge of mitigation measures, and to make sure they will work out in the field,” said Van Scoik, who served as the incident commander for the exercise.

For example, this year students practiced with a cleaner, fluorine-free firefighting foam to see if it would knock down the plume of chemicals as quickly as its fluorine counterpart. They also practiced with a hand-held foam machine, which they had not yet used on a spill.

In total, the students practiced mitigating 21 spills over the two weeks.

“We want to protect our communities and our environment and this training helps us to do that,” said Veolia Project Director Alec Myers.