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Visiting scientists observe the E-Tunnel South Portal at the Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain groundwater characterization area during an October 2017 field trip to the Nevada National Security Site.
Visiting scientists observe the E-Tunnel South Portal at the Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain groundwater characterization area during an October 2017 field trip to the Nevada National Security Site.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) environmental cleanup program has reached a significant milestone in its legacy cleanup mission at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), completing approximately half of the planned groundwater characterization activities.

The DOE Environmental Management program in Nevada recently completed groundwater characterization activities at the Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain (RM/SM) section of the NNSS. The State of Nevada’s Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP) approved DOE’s closure report on April 1.

With the earlier completion of work at Frenchman Flat, about half of all groundwater characterization areas at the NNSS have now reached the long-term monitoring stage.

“With Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain now in long-term monitoring, we are nearly halfway to the safe, secure, and successful completion of our groundwater characterization mission at the NNSS,” said Todd Shrader, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Environmental Management.

After careful review and analysis of groundwater modeling in partnership with NDEP, the EM Nevada Program was successful in developing a modeling strategy to accelerate the closure process at RM/SM, while maintaining full regulatory compliance to best protect people and the environment. As a result, the EM Nevada Program was able to achieve closure at RM/SM under budget and ahead of schedule.

“I’m incredibly proud of our team for successfully bringing the RM/SM characterization area to closure nearly three years early, helping to save $5 million in federal funding,” said Rob Boehlecke, EM Nevada Program manager.

From 1951 to 1992, more than 800 underground nuclear tests were conducted at the NNSS. About one-third of these tests occurred near, below, or within the water table — the groundwater layer where rock and soil are completely saturated with water. As a result, some groundwater was contaminated. In the mid-1990s, the federal government and the State of Nevada reached a legal agreement outlining various cleanup and monitoring commitments, known as the Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order (FFACO).

Since that time, EM Nevada Program scientists have conducted extensive investigations involving the sampling, modeling, and monitoring of groundwater contamination. Closure is the final stage of the FFACO-guided process, in which controls are established to restrict access to contaminated groundwater, institutional requirements are set, and a long-term monitoring program is implemented to ensure that the characterization results remain within regulatory guidelines.

Other organizations that contributed to the successful completion of the RM/SM closure approval process included: Navarro Research and Engineering, Inc.; Mission Support and Test Services, LLC; the Desert Research Institute; the U.S. Geological Survey; the Los Alamos National Laboratory; and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

For more information about groundwater characterization at the NNSS, click here.

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