NNSS News

Aerial radiation measurements keep the Indianapolis 500 safe

helicopter pilot flying over Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Remote Sensing Laboratory Aerial Measuring System team surveys the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nevada National Security Site’s Remote Sensing Laboratory provides first-time support for annual racing event

Before the racecar drivers took to the track and Indycar fans filled the stands, the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) played a vital role in keeping the athletes and attendees at the Indianapolis 500 safe.

It was the first time that the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) helicopter supported the Indy 500 with flyover radiation monitoring in the days leading up to the event on May 29. Much of NEST – including the helicopter – is operated by NNSS’s Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL).

With locations at Joint Base Andrews and Nellis Air Force Base, NEST teams can quickly deploy in the event of a radiological emergency anywhere in the nation. Aerial radiation monitoring is a normal part of security and emergency preparedness activities for major public events such as the Indianapolis 500.

NNSA’s Bell 412 helicopter flies a low-altitude grid pattern over the event venue and is equipped with radiation-sensing technology that captures baseline measurements of radiation levels. NEST shared the information with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

“The data is given to local officials to help with awareness and decision making,” said NEST supervisor Jacqueline Brandon. “The earth is an abundant source of naturally occurring radiation that varies measurably with location. Mapping these background fluctuations informs decisions made by local emergency officials and is a helpful contribution to the safety and security planning process.”

RSL’s NEST teams have been providing support for more and more large public events in recent years. Combined, the teams cover hundreds of square miles of terrain every year, collecting background data and supplying it to local stakeholders, helping ensure the safety of special events.

Recently, the NEST helicopter provided support to the Boston Marathon, having surveyed the event multiple times since 2014. Brandon said it’s been valuable to have several years of historical data for the highly popular race.

Other events include the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Las Vegas Strip.

“We’ve had quite a few events this year alone,” Brandon said.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway drew a crowd of 325,000 fans for the 106-year old race – the largest attendance since 2016.


NNSS welcomes more than 100 students in its fourth annual Student Program

NNSS logo

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) welcomes more than 100 students from all across the U.S., either virtually or in-person, for the start of the 2022 summer Student Program.

Nearly half of the student interns join the NNSS from Nevada schools, including the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; the University of Nevada, Reno; the College of Southern Nevada; and Touro University. The remaining students hail from universities and colleges across the U.S., representing more than 20 states.

For 40 hours each week, the Student Program and the student’s assigned department engage students in hands-on projects while applying classroom theories to real jobs tasks, all while supporting the NNSS mission. This environment provides students with a better view of what a future career might look like in both technical or professional fields.

The Student Program was developed in 2019 to allow hands-on work experience, mentorship in various disciplines and professional development opportunities for college students. In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Resources’ Talent Acquisition department worked with many other directorates to transform the program from an in-person internship to being completely virtual in just five short weeks.

Last year’s program built upon the success of the 2020 virtual format. Most students worked virtually throughout the summer, but in some cases, local students worked on site with manager consent.

The Student Program has nearly doubled in size since it began, allowing more students the opportunity to learn what national security is all about. Students’ majors include engineering, mathematics, computer science, physics, business administration and more. Whether a student is in a technical role or a business professional or support role, there are a variety of opportunities for students to learn and grow at the NNSS.

Universities represented by students at the NNSS this summer are:

  • University of Alabama
  • University of Arizona
  • Arizona State University
  • Brigham Young University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • California State University
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of California, Merced
  • University of Southern California
  • Colorado Mesa University
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Colorado State University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Gonzaga University
  • Idaho State University
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Kansas State University
  • Louisiana State University
  • Northwest Missouri State College
  • College of Southern Nevada
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • University of Nevada, Reno
  • Touro University
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • University of New Mexico
  • New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology
  • University of Providence
  • Oklahoma State University
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Oregon State University
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Rutgers
  • Syracuse University
  • Taylor University
  • Texas A&M
  • Texas Tech
  • Utah State University
  • Western Governors University
  • The Citadel
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Learn more about the Student Program on the NNSS website and contact Student Program Coordinator Terri Shafer for information at shafertl@nv.doe.gov.


Building tomorrow's mission today

group of employees in hard hats in front of hoist at U1a Complex
ECERG members in their safety gear ready to go downhole at the U1a Complex.

This year, the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Early Career Employee Resource Group (ECERG) hosted their first Mission Week at the Site itself. Previous ECERG Mission Weeks have included tours of the Remote Sensing Laboratory at Nellis Air Force Base and the North Las Vegas Facility.

The first event was a luncheon with NNSS executive leaders to open lines of communication and build relationships among all levels of the organization, allowing professional relationships to develop organically in a relaxed setting. Getting to know members of the Senior Leadership Team gave ECERG members an opportunity to feel better connected to the NNSS and allowed their voices to be heard.

The second event was a tour of the current mission work happening at the Site. Many of these employees were hired during the pandemic and have been working remotely. For these employees, it was their first opportunity to see the projects and programs they are supporting. Most employees hired before the pandemic were able to attend a new hire tour, taking them to several historical locations.

group of employees in Bilby Crater
ECERG members at the Bilby Crater.

“It's always amazing to drive out to the Site and see all the work that is going on to support national security, from the modernization of our infrastructure to the underground scientific research that is happening at U1a,” said NNSS Business Specialist Dallin Pew. “This was the second time that I've been able to tour the Site and each time I walk away amazed at the progress that's being made.”

Pew has been with the NNSS for three years and joined ECERG six months ago.

ECERG was established in February 2017 to serve as a platform for employees to champion change, support professional goals and overcome work-related challenges. The group welcomes early career professionals who have been in their career field for less than 10 years. ECERG hosts events, workshops and volunteer opportunities to connect colleagues across the NNSS with similar interests and develop networks that make their work and personal lives more fulfilling.



NNSS joins federal, state and local partners for Cobalt Magnet 22 radiological incident exercise

NNSA and NEST

Austin training exercise will bring numerous agencies together to ensure preparedness

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is just one of more than 30 local, state, and federal agencies participating in the Cobalt Magnet 22 exercise in Austin, Texas, May 16-20. The exercise, led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), is a high-level drill designed to train the numerous agencies to coordinate responses during, and ensure preparedness against, radiological threats.

Cobalt Magnet 22 is the culmination of 18 months of planning by local, state, and federal responders. The exercise simulates a radiological attack on the city of Austin and prompts response personnel to practice protecting public health and safety, providing emergency relief to affected populations, and restoring essential services at various locations throughout the city.

During the week, members of the public may see field teams in protective clothing using radiological monitoring and detection equipment, low-flying aircraft conducting data-gathering overflights, and groups of first responders and others staged at various locations. The exercise is part of a regular program of training, exercises and planning by which NNSA and federal, state and local partners prepare to protect public health and safety.

“The men and women of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team – or NEST – are trained to provide decision-makers with timely, actionable scientific advice during fearful events,” said Jay Tilden, DOE’s Deputy Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation. “Saving lives and reducing the impact of a nuclear incident requires a full understanding of what happened, who will be affected, and what the optimal response should be. NEST’s bread and butter is providing that information to local, state, and federal leaders as rapidly as possible.”

NEST is NNSA’s multi-mission nuclear emergency response capability, providing highly trained and equipped scientists and technical experts to contend with any conceivable nuclear or radiological challenge. During Cobalt Magnet, NEST will provide radiological monitoring and assessment assistance to state and local leaders to make informed public health and safety decisions. NEST will also work with local, state, and federal law enforcement to conduct radiological search operations and identify potential threat devices.

Learn more about the Nevada National Security Site’s role in preparing for and responding to radiological threats at NNSS.gov.


Sparking excitement in STEM at the Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival

two young children, one holding green balloon, with NNSS scientist holding up pane of glass
NNSS Engineer Nolan Moore demonstrating how the infrared camera works.

Employees from the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) recently spent a Saturday at the Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival inviting children and their families into a day in the life of a scientist. Through hands-on demonstrations, children were able to get a better understanding of what STEM education truly is and a glimpse into a future career field.

Established in 2011, the Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival is the largest educational event in Nevada. The event is designed to spark curiosity and showcase a variety of work happening in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Las Vegas. More than 40,000 visitors attend the nine-day festival each year, which hosts more than 130 organizations.

NNSS employees joined the final day of the festival for its science and technology expo with several interactive stations. NNSS Fire and Rescue employees Cody Milner and Bill Nixon showed children the 1950 Seagrave fire engine at the entrance to the World Market Center and talked about what it’s like to be a firefighter. Children explored the classic fire truck and received free NNSS fire helmets and firetruck pencil cases.

Visitors learned about shock physics on a small scale by sealing an acrylic tube, removing air pressure from inside to create a vacuum. The launcher then used natural atmospheric pressure to push a 3-D printed projectile down the tube to hit a felt target, traveling over 300 mph.

NNSS employees holding balloons at table with computer monitor on it
NNSS Administrative Specialist Elizabeth Craft and Senior Scientist Gwyn Rosaire at the balloon pop demo.

An infrared camera at the third interactive station showed visitors how thermal energy is observed and converts into an electronic signal, producing an image. NNSS employees demonstrated diagnostic timing and firing at another station through the simple pop of a balloon using a high-speed imaging camera (13,000 frames per second) to capture data. Another station showed how fiber optics work through internal reflection by having a laser follow a stream of water.

The design of the magnetic accelerator, the final demonstration, converted magnetic energy on the magnet rings into kinetic energy on a small magnet cylinder over and over again along an acrylic tube to mimic a particle accelerator.

NNSS employees who volunteered were Kena Anderson, Brent Baker, Elizabeth Craft, Wadih Hanache, Russell Howe, Amanda Lee, Jian Ma, James Majdanac, Cody Milner, Nolan Moore, Bill Nixon, Gwyn Rosaire and Todd Ware.

The NNSS supports STEM in local and regional K-12 and higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations through volunteerism, financial support and board membership.


NNSS employees help revitalize Las Vegas neighborhoods one home at a time

group of NNSS volunteers in front of a house they helped revitalize
NNSS volunteers pose in front of a home they revitalized in partnership with Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada.

From landscaping to painting to cleaning, employees from the NNSS arrived ready to tackle everything on the to-do list during a community service project last month. For several years, the NNSS has partnered with Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada, a nonprofit organization working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize neighborhoods by providing free rehabilitation services to those in need. More than 30 employees pitched in on April 30 to help renovate a Las Vegas community member’s home.

“Thanks to NNSS employees, we have renovated many homes,” said Jennifer Morgan, Principal Communication Specialist at the NNSS. “But it’s not about the number of houses we work on—it’s about the community members’ lives that we impact. At the end of the day, nothing feels better than doing that final walkthrough with the homeowner going over the day’s accomplishments. That’s why we do it: to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Employees and their family and friends volunteer twice per year to renovate homes adopted by the NNSS, a corporate sponsor of Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada. For the latest project, volunteers performed exterior clean-up and renovations, including:

  • Removing dead trees, shrubs and weeds
  • Installing the irrigation system
  • Replacing the stripping at the bottom of the garage door
  • Painting the home’s exterior walls and trim
  • Planting flowers and trees
  • Replacing window screens
  • Laying artificial turf

screenshot of virtual Nevada Science Bowl 2nd place team from Davidson Acadmey with Science Bowl logo
screenshot of virtual Nevada Science Bowl 3rd place team from Green Valley High School with Science Bowl logo
screenshot of virtual Nevada Science Bowl 4th place team from Reno High School with Science Bowl logo

The NNSS supports Nevada robotics teams’ bid in national competition

High school robotics team posing with their robot and MSTS President Mark Martinez
MSTS President Mark W. Martinez (second from left) with Desert Oasis High School’s Cyber Vipers, recipients of the competition’s Rookie Inspiration Award.

Three FIRST Nevada high school robotics teams made it to the big stage at the FIRST national championship in Houston this month, and Mission Support and Test Services (MSTS) President Mark W. Martinez was there to cheer them on.

The FIRST Robotics Competition consisted of teams of 25 students who built and programmed a robot to perform prescribed tasks against its competitors. The competition provides students real-world engineering experience in a competitive setting.

MSTS—the management and operating contractor for the Nevada National Security Site—supported the Nevada teams’ bids for the national championship, providing funds to assist with their travel, accommodation and meal costs. Participating teams from Las Vegas hailed from Cimarron-Memorial High School, Desert Oasis High School (pictured below) and Northwest Career and Technical Academy. Desert Oasis High School’s team, the Cyber Vipers, won the Rookie Inspiration Award.

“These students are future innovators and some will shape what happens at the NNSS and across the entire National Security Enterprise,” said Martinez. “By giving them the opportunity at a young age to be exposed to STEM activities, demonstrations and competitions, it shows them the future they could have. For now, it’s their hobby but soon enough, they will have the opportunity to turn that hobby into their career.”

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Nevada is a non-profit organization promoting FIRST robotics programs and STEAM education initiatives throughout Nevada.


Gentleman in helicopter flying over Boston
The Remote Sensing Laboratory Aerial Measurement System team surveys the Boston Marathon route.

Las Vegas’ connection to the Boston Marathon

Nevada National Security Site’s Remote Sensing Laboratory flyovers help provide security

What do the Boston Marathon, Presidential Inaugurations, New Year’s Eve Las Vegas, national political conventions, and even the Super Bowl have in common?

They’re all monitored by the Nevada National Security Site’s (NNSS) Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) Aerial Measurement System (AMS), with locations at Joint Base Andrews and Nellis Air Force Base, part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST).

This year marks the seventh time that RSL’s AMS team will support the Boston Marathon, having surveyed the event multiple times since 2014. Measurements are taken with a U.S. Department of Energy-owned Bell 412 helicopter equipped with radiation-sensing technology that flies in a low-altitude grid pattern over the marathon route. The measurements are combined to produce a baseline map of naturally occurring radiation, which NEST provides to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.

aerial view of city of Boston with buildings
Aerial view of the survey route.

These background surveys are a normal part of security and emergency preparedness activities. “For these events a full team, which includes two pilots, a mechanic, a mission manager, a home team scientist, a data analyst, and an equipment specialist, deploys to ensure a successful mission,” said AMS Supervisor Jacqueline Brandon. “The survey flights generally take two days to complete. With the addition of data processing, planning, and airspace coordination, the whole event takes hundreds of hours.”

Combined, RSL teams cover hundreds of square miles of terrain every year, collecting background data and supplying it to local safety officials, helping ensure the safety of special events. The highly skilled service provided by the teams has become so well-known and well-respected that the list of nationally heralded, big-name events contacting them to provide survey services grows every year.

The Boston Marathon itself has been held every year since 1897, except for in 2020 when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It attracts roughly 30,000 entrants and 500,000 spectators each year, making it New England’s most widely viewed sporting event.

Seven team members standing in front of the Bell 412 helicopter
The Remote Sensing Laboratory Aerial Measurement System team with their Bell 412 helicopter.

“I’m proud of the work we do for Boston Marathon and other events,” Brandon said. “The NNSS’s mission of national security is linked to public safety in more ways than you might think. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’m glad to be part of it.”












U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visits the Nevada National Security Site

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in a hard hat receiving a briefing at the U1a Complex
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm receives a briefing during her visit to the U1a Complex.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) during a trip to the Silver State. It was the Secretary’s first visit since her confirmation in February 2021 amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. Granholm is the 16th Secretary of Energy and the second woman to lead the U.S. Department of Energy since its creation in 1977. Video of her tour is available for download on YouTube.

The Secretary’s visit included a tour of the Site’s U1a Complex (an underground facility where the NNSS performs scientific work to support national security), briefings from the NNSS Remote Sensing Laboratory at Nellis Air Force Base and Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and surveys of several of the Site’s facilities and ongoing infrastructure projects.

“It is so helpful to be here to physically see the work being done at the Nevada National Security Site,” said Granholm. “What you do is incredibly important to this nation and the world. On behalf of the 330 million in the United States, and the billions of people across the globe, thank you for your part in making this a safer planet.”

Granholm visited the town of Mercury, once home to 10,000 people in the 1960s who worked at what was then known as the Nevada Test Site. Mercury’s structures, some dating back to the 1950s, house operations and other critical functions for the 1,355-square-mile Site.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm stands near fence talking to workers in hard hats
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visits the construction site of Building 2 in Mercury.

Mercury is undergoing a renaissance as the NNSS transforms aging infrastructure and facilities into energy efficient, resilient and high-performance utilities and structures to support its modern national security mission. A shining example is Fire Station 1, which was the first net zero and LEED Gold certified building in the National Nuclear Security Administration. A solar array in Mercury powers Fire Station 1 and the 14,000-square-foot Building 1, also net zero and LEED Gold certified, that opened in 2018. Fourteen existing buildings have been certified by the NNSA as High-Performance Sustainable Buildings and several new energy efficient buildings are slated for construction in the coming years.

“I am impressed by your ingenuity and purposeful transition to sustainable energy sources and, with your space and abundant sunshine, I look to you to think ambitiously about renewable energy,” said Granholm. “The NNSS is poised to become a shining example of sustainability.”




NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby outlines goals, praises NNSS workforce in town hall meeting

Administrator Jill Hruby speaking at podium in auditorium during the NNSS town hall meeting
Administrator Jill Hruby speaks during the NNSS town hall meeting.

Jill Hruby, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security of the U.S. Department of Energy and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), visited Las Vegas recently to tour the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) and talk with employees. In addition to her time at the NNSS North Las Vegas Facility, she toured the Site and the Remote Sensing Laboratory at Nellis Air Force Base.

In her visit, Hruby hosted a virtual and in-person town hall for all NNSS employees during which she outlined her priorities, including her vision for the NNSS and its role in stockpile stewardship, the global environment and nonproliferation. She also discussed her focus on building and maintaining a world-class workforce within the NNSA.

Hruby touched on the urgency of the NNSA’s mission, its opportunities to “bring science, product and infrastructure to the next level of innovation and maturity,” and how the NNSS is supporting that work.

“My mantra as NNSA Administrator has been to ‘Innovate, Collaborate, and Deliver,’” she said. “The NNSS exemplifies collaboration. National security initiatives from the National Laboratories are executed here through seamless integration of Laboratory and NNSS staff with operational expertise of the Site.”

Hruby said the NNSA’s top priority is to execute, in a cost-effective manner, the significant commitments it has across the board. “Maintaining our competitive edge will require us to deliver new technologies and procedures, and to reinvigorate capabilities to enhance nuclear security, arms control and naval reactors.”

She praised Mission Support and Test Services LLC (MSTS), the management and operating contractor at the NNSS, and the government-industry partnership as a whole. “The core of the model, the idea of using the best practices in U.S. industry and academia to do government work, is brilliant, and brilliantly American. Mark Martinez and the entire MSTS team are a prime example of how the model brings us excellence.”

Administrator Jill Hruby and other visitors in hard hats while visiting the NNSS
Administrator Jill Hruby visits the NNSS.

Her vision for the NNSS and its role in stockpile stewardship, the global environment and nonproliferation included acknowledgements of the breakthroughs and milestones achieved in subcritical experiments and the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments project; expectations for expertise and answers on increasing proliferation challenges; and a commitment to work with allies to mitigate global nuclear risks while also promoting access to safe, peaceful use of nuclear power to help combat climate change.

Hruby addressed continuing hiring and retention challenges across the country. “NNSA’s ability to achieve its mission ultimately depends on the ability to recruit, develop and retain a highly skilled workforce of national security professionals, especially the next generation of leaders and experts,” she said.

“To succeed, we must provide a supportive working environment for employees of all races and ethnicities, genders, identifications, orientations and religions. We cannot bring the best and brightest into NNSA without providing a supportive environment. I am a strong supporter of, and have personally grown as a result of, diversity, equality and inclusion efforts.”

Hruby recently approved funding to support midyear compensation increases across the Nuclear Security Enterprise. As a result, the NNSS allocated $6.5 million to increase pay for part-time and full-time non-bargaining employees, which went into effect March 28. Additionally, $2 million was set aside to directly support recruitment, retention and performance initiatives.

The compensation increase follows an announcement in early March of new benefits for non-bargaining employees. The new benefits increased holiday hours from 80 to 96 beginning in 2022. It also rolled out student loan repayment for individuals who graduated within the last three years with a degree that applies to their current job. Student loan repayment enhances the existing education training assistance program that provides tuition assistance to current students enrolled in approved courses at an accredited higher education institution. Non-bargaining employees are eligible for up to $5,250 each year to either apply toward qualifying student loans or current tuition assistance. Non-bargaining employees who work at the Site, located 65 miles north of Las Vegas, are also eligible to accrue up to 40 hours of additional paid time off each year.