The recent accomplishment helped accelerate the schedule to complete corrective actions at all soil sites under the Nevada Program by six years, saving $67 million. The team is focused on closing the sixth of six soil sites at the adjoining Air Force-controlled Nevada Test and Training Range by the end of this year.
“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,” Nevada Program Manager Rob Boehlecke said. “Most importantly, all work was safely completed with no Occupational Safety and Health Administration-recordable injuries, and worker exposures were minimized through careful planning such that none exceeded established safety limits.”
The Nevada Program reduced the cost and schedule of the NNSS soil sites project through several means, including streamlining the closure process at several sites without sacrificing safety or thoroughness. The EM team relied on historic data, such as an expansive survey conducted from 1981 through 1986 to identify the level and location of radioactive contamination. The team also relied on radiological surveys completed in the 1990s by aircraft flying over the NNSS. This information helped identify contaminated sites to list in the Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order, a legally-binding agreement signed in 1996 that outlines a schedule of cleanup and monitoring commitments.
Hundreds of scientists, technicians, laboratory employees, and other team members, some who have worked at NNSS for several decades, supported the work to remove surface and shallow subsurface soils contaminated by historic nuclear testing from 1951 until 1992.
Dozens of stakeholders have shaped the path to complete the NNSS soil sites, including representatives of the State of Nevada, U.S. Air Force, tribes, other intergovernmental entities, and the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board, which provides recommendations to the Nevada Program.
Environmental corrective actions began with characterizing the extent of soil contamination at the NNSS. The biggest challenge was identifying the best remedy for contaminated soils that cover approximately 6,000 acres on the NNSS, while accounting for worker risks, future land use, and long-term protection of human health and the environment. Ultimately, the Nevada Program selected a radiological dose-based cleanup remedy and crews began completing corrective actions in 2007.
More challenges followed, including the discovery of unexpected contaminants such as unexploded ordnance and hazardous waste, which workers safely mitigated.
The first NNSS soils site to undergo investigation, remediation, and closure was the T-1 site in 2009. It was the location of four different nuclear tests detonated from atop towers in the 1950s. Remediation activities there included removal and recycling of lead objects.
The last of the NNSS soils sites approved for closure this year were a group of six sites where chemical and radiological contamination resulted primarily from weapons-related testing.