LAS VEGAS – In July 2021, Todd Shrader, then-principal deputy assistant secretary for EM, gave a lecture at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas about the cleanup program’s critical work in managing sites across the nation impacted by decades of government-sponsored nuclear energy research.
His lecture led to a new exhibit created through a partnership between EM and the museum titled, “Beyond the Manhattan Project: Cleaning up the Legacy of America’s Nuclear Defense and Research Missions.” Spotlighting the past, present and future of EM, the exhibit was recently unveiled to the public in a ribbon-cutting ceremony where EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White gave remarks.
“It was a pleasure to take part,” White said. “This exhibit is a reflection of our nation’s history, our mission success, and the work we do every day to keep communities safe. I am excited to share that legacy with the public.”
Congresswoman Dina Titus, whose district includes most of Las Vegas, said atomic testing has deep roots in Nevada and has played an important role in the social, economic and political history of the state.
“Although it helped us win the Cold War, we now know more about the long-term dangers it poses to our communities,” Titus said. “This exhibit is a valuable educational tool for teaching about the risks associated with nuclear weapon production and the continued efforts at the Department of Energy to clean up test sites that have been contaminated over the last half-century. We must continue to address these ‘national sacrifice zones’ and hold firm in our position to avoid nuclear weapons testing in the future.”
Highlighting EM's cleanup across the DOE complex through an array of photos, displays, models, site equipment, and history, the permanent exhibit seeks to raise awareness of how EM cleans up former nuclear manufacturing and testing sites, ensures the safety and health of the public and workforce, and collaborates with local communities in the cleanup.
EM and museum officials hope the exhibit will help draw the attention of future candidates for EM's workforce who have interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
John Longenecker, chair of the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation, shared that sentiment as he joined White to conduct the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the event.
“We have thousands of student visitors coming through the museum each year, and our goal is to get them informed and excited about possible future careers in national security and environmental management,” Longenecker said.
Featured exhibit items include tools from the Nevada National Security Site, vitrified glass and beads from the Hanford Site in Washington state, waste canisters and models from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and more.
“EM oversees nearly 600,000 acres of U.S. land,” White said. “We are the largest environmental cleanup program in the world, and that brings a responsibility to conduct missions with the upmost innovation, security and success.”
About 60 people attended the ribbon-cutting event. Following remarks from White, museum curator Parker Arecchi led a guided tour of the exhibit. That was followed by an interactive groundwater demonstration from Jeffrey Wurtz, hydrogeologist for EM Nevada Program contractor Navarro Research and Engineering. He demonstrated a dynamic model resembling an ant farm designed to illustrate the movement of groundwater under the soil’s surface. Watch this video for more about the demonstration.
Ceremony guests received complimentary pieces of rock salt dating back to the Permian geologic period. Mined from EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), 2,150 feet underground, the salt is more than 250 million years old and safe to handle. WIPP’s underground nuclear waste repository is cut from a 2,000-foot-thick layer of salt laid down by the shallow Permian Sea.
White said both the EM exhibit and the museum represent the preservation of the history of an effort that continues to be crucial to national security — and they were created in a way that invites and encourages community engagement.
"I’ve learned to very much appreciate the extraordinary level of community engagement that comes as an integral part of the effort to clean up the legacy environmental impacts affecting communities across the country," he said.
The exhibit is now open to the public at the National Atomic Testing Museum, located at 755 East Flamingo Road in Las Vegas.
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