DOE completes cleanup at Nevada’s Tonopah Test Range

November 2, 2020, 7:00AMRadwaste Solutions

Weapon systems, research rockets, and artillery were tested on the Tonopah Test Range beginning in 1956. Photo: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) announced on October 27 that it has completed another of its 2020 priorities—completing the remediation activities on and around the Tonopah Test Range and conveying 70 sites into long-term stewardship. Cleanup of the historic site, located within the Nevada Test and Training Range about 160 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was completed in less than half the time initially estimated, according to the DOE.

Oversight of the 70 remediated sites has now been transferred from the Office of Environmental Management to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management (LM), which provides long-term surveillance and maintenance of remediated and closed DOE sites. Undersecretary for Science Paul Dabbar and other representatives from the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) celebrated the transfer of the sites to LM on October 20.

By completing the cleanup and transfer of the sites to LM 10 years ahead of schedule, EM avoided $2 million in costs associated with post-closure monitoring, according to the DOE. The Tonopah Test Range sites were among the dozens of surface locations remediated by EM’s Nevada program as part of its overall soils sites cleanup mission, which was completed six years earlier than planned in late 2019, saving nearly $67 million in federal funding.

Background: The cleanup activities at sites on and around Tonopah Test Range were to deal with contamination that had resulted from historic nuclear weapons testing and support activities. The Atomic Energy Commission, predecessor to the DOE, began testing weapon systems, research rockets, and artillery on the range in 1956. These tests included transportation experiments to determine if nuclear weapons could be accidentally set off and produce a nuclear yield.

As part of the remediation process, contaminated soil and debris from these sites were transported to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) for permanent disposal.

The transfer: Transfer of the Tonopah Test Range sites to LM was officially executed on September 30 and involved more than 100 unique actions across 10 key focus areas, including the coordination of stakeholder commitments, the transmission of more than 7,200 documents and records, and the identification and transfer of existing infrastructure, such as fences and monuments.

Navarro Research and Engineering supported EM Nevada and LM in administering the transfer process, with additional coordination from the NNSA’s Nevada Field Office and from Mission Support and Test Services, the management and operations contractor at NNSS.


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