ETEC Manager Discusses Completion of DOE Building Demolition; Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Receives Milestone 13,000th Shipment; and much more!

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EM Update | Vol. 13, Issue 46 | Nov. 23, 2021

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Los Alamos Continues Groundwater Sampling Along Rio Grande Amid Drought

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Crew members with Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos don snake gaiters to protect themselves against potential rattlesnake bites as they collect water samples at a spring along the Rio Grande for analysis.

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. –The EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) has been able to navigate shallow sections of the Rio Grande and its tributaries to sample for contaminants despite unseasonably low water levels this year.

“Due to drought conditions, the river was the lowest it’s been in the past 20 years for this sampling campaign,” said Kevin Reid, program manager for TerranearPMC, a subcontractor that supports the groundwater monitoring program of EM-LA cleanup contractor Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos (N3B). “The river’s average flow at this time of year is typically 700 cubic feet per second. This year it was 400 cubic feet per second.”

Crews collected water samples at 25 sites in White Rock Canyon to verify that potential contamination associated with historical Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) operations has not migrated offsite.

In the more than 30-year history of the annual sampling campaign, groundwater sample results have indicated that contamination from LANL is not present in the springs of the canyon.


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A view of the Rio Grande in White Rock Canyon, which has unseasonably low water levels this year due to exceptional drought conditions.


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Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos environmental professionals recently rafted a section of the drought-stricken Rio Grande in White Rock Canyon to collect samples that assess whether historical Los Alamos National Laboratory operations impact water quality.


After scouting the Rio Grande to ensure navigability for this year’s campaign, N3B crews rafted for roughly 20 river miles, managing rocks and sandbars along the way. They collected samples from the river itself, both upstream and downstream of LANL, to assess whether contaminants were reaching the river from LANL’s historical footprint.

They also gathered samples from springs at the mouth of several tributary canyons that run into the Rio Grande. The springs in White Rock Canyon represent the area’s groundwater conditions because they are surface expressions of the upper portion of the regional aquifer beneath LANL.

“Sampling the springs to assess groundwater conditions proves much more efficient than installing multiple monitoring wells,” Reid said. “And accessing the sites via raft, which takes only three days, is much preferred over hiking to the sites, which can span two weeks.”

Workers sample for several potential contaminants, including radionuclides; metals such as chromium; and volatile organic compounds, which are manmade chemicals typically found in industrial solvents.

Sampling spots include locations on Pueblo de San Ildefonso, the U.S. Forest Service, and Los Alamos County land. Prior approval is required to access these sites. This year, crews entered the five sampling sites on Pueblo land by foot following the raft trip.

During a typical monitoring year, N3B conducts several campaigns to collect groundwater samples from 195 locations on and around LANL property. Sample results are made available to the public in this database.

“The sampling campaign in White Rock Canyon is something we look forward to every year,” Reid said. “But when it is all said and done, and the snakes and canyon are left to their peace, it’s a relief.”

-Contributor: Kate Keenan



Veterans Helping Veterans: Putting Words Into Action

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From left, veterans Billy Davis, Buddy Cunningham, James Towne, Allan Vincent, and Tom Gottselig took part in a waterfowl hunt in December 2020 as part of Wounded Veteran’s Waterfowl Club. Cunninham manages the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste Program infrastructure integration team for EM Office of River Protection tank operations contractor Washington River Protection Solutions.


RICHLAND, Wash. – There is a unique bond among service members.

Whether they were deployed to an active war zone or served during peacetime, they have shared experiences that include basic training, physical fitness tests, living in close and sometimes uncomfortable quarters, embracing the simplicity of military time, and never-ending acronyms. So many acronyms.

For those men and women who saw combat, there is a whole other set of shared experiences that can include living in shipping containers, waking to air raid sirens in the middle of the night, eating cold food in the field, and relishing every package from home.

Life after service can be a challenge to navigate, especially for those service members who have lived through combat.

Buddy Cunningham is a former soldier who manages the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste Program infrastructure integration team for EM Office of River Protection tank operations contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS). The one-time Army personnel specialist recently found a calling in helping combat veterans learn to hunt. As an avid hunter himself, Cunningham reached out to the Wounded Veteran’s Waterfowl Club last year and was invited to join the group on a hunt.

“I felt weird because I’m not a wounded vet, but I was able to work with two guys who have combat-related injuries who had never hunted waterfowl before,” said Cunningham. “I ended up putting down my gun and just helped them. That was more rewarding than bagging birds of my own.”

For Veterans Day weekend, Cunningham opened his home to a group of veterans from Colorado and western Washington for a hunting expedition in the Columbia Basin. The area around the Hanford Site and along the Columbia River is world renowned for its waterfowl hunting, and Hanford’s cleanup mission is working to make sure it stays that way.

“Even though I don’t have that combat experience, we can share stories about our time in service, and getting a chance to introduce them to a hobby they can embrace with or without combat wounds is very rewarding,” said Cunningham.


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Jerry Kurtz, right, helps a veteran seeking employment at a resume workshop at WorkSource Columbia Basin in Kennewick, Washington prior to COVID-19 protocols being implemented. Kurtz and other Washington River Protection Solutions representatives regularly meet with veterans virtually and at local veterans events.


WRPS Radiological Control Manager Jerry Kurtz has also found a way to help fellow veterans. He volunteers for a local job placement agency and community college, meeting with men and women who have recently left the military and are trying to land that first civilian job.

“Many of these folks are in their twenties, and they’ve never needed a resume and never had a job interview,” said Kurtz.

Every month, Kurtz and representatives from the WRPS workforce resources group meet with as many as 10 men and women who recently separated from the service, reviewing their resumes, offering them tips for their job search, and holding mock interviews.

“There was one gentleman I worked with who I later found out had been about a week away from being homeless,” recounted Kurtz. “I worked with him on his resume for about 20 minutes, and he ended up landing a job that changed his life.”

Kurtz and other WRPS employees formed a group called Veterans for Veterans, with a goal to mentor veterans, develop leadership skills, and successfully transition from military to civilian life.

“This group wants WRPS to be known as a veteran-friendly company, and that means meeting veterans where they are, helping them when they need help, and making sure they know they have a support system ready and available to them,” said Kurtz.

-Contributor: Jenna Kochenauer



Paducah Site Constructing New Scanning Facility for Building Deactivation

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Workers for EM Paducah Site deactivation and remediation contractor Four Rivers Nuclear Partnership use a jackhammer to break up concrete in the initial stage of construction on the Large Item Neutron Assay System facility at the Paducah Site.


PADUCAH, Ky.EM’s Paducah Site is constructing a key facility in the cleanup of the former gaseous diffusion plant.

The Large Item Neutron Assay System (LINAS) will house scanning equipment to support the deactivation of the C-333 Process Building, one of the two largest facilities at the former uranium-enrichment plant in western Kentucky.

Deactivation is the process of placing a contaminated excess facility in a stable condition to minimize existing risks and protect workers, the public, and the environment while preparing it for future decommissioning and demolition.


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An artist rendering of the Large Item Neutron Assay System at the Paducah Site shows large items entering the facility where scanners will measure the neutrons emitted from the equipment.


LINAS will reuse Helium-3 Detector Tubes from EM’s Oak Ridge Site in Tennessee to scan and measure the neutron particles emitted from uranium deposits inside large equipment removed from the process building. Measurements from the scans will be used to determine how the equipment will be disposed.

The LINAS chamber, where the scanners will measure the neutrons emitted from the equipment, has a 3-foot-thick ceiling, 2-foot-thick walls, and 18-inch-thick doors to ensure any natural radiation present in the environment is blocked during scans to improve the accuracy of the data generated from the scan.

“Construction and operation of the LINAS facility is a key step in the deactivation of the site’s process buildings,” said Jennifer Woodard, the Paducah Site lead with EM's Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office. “This process will allow us to safely and efficiently evaluate process building equipment for disposition.”

C-333 has more than 1,300 pieces of equipment to be downsized and dispositioned as a part of facility deactivation. The LINAS facility is expected to be completed by spring 2022 and will become fully operational in September 2022.

-Contributor: Dylan Nichols



Savannah River Site Contractor Sets Record for Small Business Subcontracts

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Employees representing Savannah River Remediation (SRR) and its small business subcontractor U&E Professional Services stand in front of the Material Access Center, supplied by U&E. That center is a storage area for materials used for the liquid waste mission at the Savannah River Site. From left are Loren Hatfield, U&E, Jerome Hicks, SRR, Angie Brown, SRR, Mason Wooldridge, U&E, Deborah Gardner, SRR, and Douglas Barclay, SRR.


AIKEN, S.C. – Savannah River Remediation (SRR) awarded more than $147 million in small business contracts in fiscal 2021, accounting for nearly 84% of all its subcontracts that year — the most since the liquid waste contractor began its contract at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in 2009.

SRR’s small business program beat EM’s goal of awarding 60% of all acquisitions for goods and services to small businesses in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

SRR also surpassed all six of its subcategory goals, including almost 28%, or $49 million, in awards to women-owned small businesses and 23%, or $41 million, in awards to small, disadvantaged businesses. Other categories include historically underutilized business zone, veteran-owned small business, and service-disabled veteran-owned small business.

DOE-Savannah River Site Assistant Manager for Waste Disposition Jim Folk highlighted SRR’s commitment to small businesses and noted that much of the liquid waste mission success is due to the diligence of SRR’s small business team making connections to secure specialized equipment and services needed.

“Highly technical projects performed at SRS require trained talent, safe work conditions, and proper equipment for achieving success,” Folk said. “At DOE, we establish performance standards we expect as a minimum for mission completion. SRR’s performance, with major contributions by their small business partners, helped move the mission forward in ways only innovative thinkers can.”


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Michael Klecker with Savannah River Remediation (SRR), left, is shown with Randy Chafin, owner of Blue Star Rental and Sales. Klecker serves as a mentor to Chafin in the SRR Mentor-Protégé Program. The utility cart pictured is the same model as one that U&E rents to SRR.


SRR awarded small business contracts in fiscal 2021 that supported its critical mission to empty waste tanks and acquire materials for disposing liquid waste.

Some significant small business awards provided fly ash, a material that makes up part of saltstone grout to dispose of decontaminated salt solution as saltstone in Saltstone Disposal Units and empty 10-foot-tall stainless steel canisters for disposing high-activity radionuclides into glass at the Defense Waste Processing Facility. Other critical components such as enhanced commercial submersible mixer pumps for dissolving salt cake in SRS waste tanks were procured through small business partners.

DOE and other government agencies set standards for its prime contractors to maximize acquisition offerings to small businesses for opportunities to provide goods and services to government contractors.

In fiscal 2021, SRR’s small business team participated in many virtual conferences and met with more than 40 potential suppliers to help identify and define the nature of SRR’s small business program, the quality expected, and safety requirements.

SRR Project Services and Support Director Sandra Fairchild said small businesses contribute to local communities and economic growth by providing employment opportunities, driving innovation, and increasing quality due to competitiveness. She encourages her staff to make the best use of opportunities for including small businesses in all aspects of SRR’s liquid waste mission.

“SRR’s highly technical and specialized work requires absolute adherence to requirements in requisitions released to suppliers,” Fairchild said. “Our business practices are robust because we have an important mission, and we appreciate the small business community’s contributions toward meeting our objectives. Nothing we do — like dispositioning radioactive waste or building mega-volume Saltstone Disposal Units — is routine.”

SRR mentors several small businesses through DOE’s Mentor Protégé Program. Small businesses benefit from the program by establishing relationships with prime contractors that can lead to joint ventures or teaming arrangements, receiving business development assistance, and gaining access to non-competitive federal subcontracts.

SRR plans to continue to engage with promising suppliers and maintain its commitment to partnering with the small business supplier base by expanding outreach and mentorship.

-Contributor: Ashley Dernberger



WIPP Leadership Academy Makes Leaders of Safety Culture Change

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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant employees take part in a classroom session at the four-week WIPP Leadership Academy. Since 2015, the academy has graduated about 450 participants.


CARLSBAD, N.M. – A first-of-a-kind leadership academy for employees at EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is recognized as a DOE best practice to improve safety culture.

Established through a partnership with New Mexico State University (NMSU), the WIPP Leadership Academy provides four weeks of training and development through a wide range of curriculum taught by NMSU faculty, WIPP management, and other presenters.

The academy supports a commitment by Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the WIPP management and operations contractor, to develop its employees through skills, training, coaching, mentoring, and effective leadership opportunities. An estimated 450 employees from the EM Carlsbad Field Office and NWP have graduated from the academy since its inception in 2015.

“If we want good leaders, we have to develop them. We can’t just hope it happens,” NWP Human Resources Manager Denis Asay said.

NWP Operations Manager Gene Balsmeier says that leadership is not about whether you were born with the charisma that makes you a leader.

“To me, leadership is a lifelong learning path of recognizing those skills and techniques to help them become better leaders,” Balsmeier said. “We need humility, vulnerability, and commitment. Titles don’t change that.”

The academy is intended to help facilitate continuous improvement in a safety conscious work environment. Participants complete team-building exercises and other activities that require accountability and help them apply what they learn in the academy.

The curriculum includes topics such as nuclear safety culture; human performance improvement; communicating for leadership success; resolving workplace conflicts; leadership and leaving a legacy; time management; effective presentation techniques; leadership styles and personality types; regulatory compliance; fire protection and engineering; transuranic waste handling and facility operations; work planning and maintenance; contractor and quality assurance; human and information resources; project management essentials; and emergency management procedures.

“I believe that the WIPP Leadership Academy is very close to what I see high-performing commercial nuclear plants do for their employees,” said Michael Coyle, a nuclear safety consultant who helped develop the academy.

John Giblin, with NWP’s human Resources and organization development group, is passionate about the academy’s success. He says managing and leading are both necessary for an organization's success, but they are not the same.

“We manage things: protocol, procedure, and policy. We lead people to do the right things,” he said. “Better and more trustworthy leaders, managers, and supervisors equal a safer and better WIPP.”

WIPP program leaders are able to measure the efficacy of the program through follow-up comments.

“A frequent comment from academy participants is that they wish they had been through the program at some time previously in their life,” former NWP Human Resources Manager Dana Dorr said. “They feel that the issues, failures, and problems they encountered in the past could have been avoided or performed differently.”

-Contributor: Joy James-Foster



Employee at Savannah River Site Honored as Government Hero of the Year

AIKEN, S.C. – As editors and judges from International Business Magazine searched the globe for the world’s best managers and leaders, one executive from the DOE complex stood out: Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) Chief Information Officer Jeff Krohn, who is being recognized as a Government Hero of the Year in an award program’s COVID-19 response category.

Krohn will be honored with a Bronze Stevie Award for his accomplishments at the Savannah River Site (SRS) during the 18th annual International Business Awards celebration in December.

He re-prioritized and rallied for funds, equipment, and other resources required to adequately transition the SRNS workforce during the pandemic, while negotiating licensing terms, lease agreements, and other critical services. SRNS is an EM contractor at SRS.

Krohn also tracked management and user concerns and prioritized them in comprehensive teleworking reports that documented issues and resolutions. During these efforts, he enforced strict security and kept SRS compliant with cybersecurity protocols.

"His steadfast leadership and perseverance resulted in a successful digital transformation of the SRS infrastructure and workforce," said Tonya Tran, SRNS principal systems engineer, who submitted the nomination. "His determination, support, and guidance were integral to the success of this critical endeavor."

The Stevie Awards recognize outstanding performances in the workplace worldwide. More than 3,700 nominations from organizations of all sizes and in virtually every industry were submitted this year for consideration in a wide range of categories.

From June through early August, more than 260 executives worldwide participated in a judging process to determine award winners.


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Savannah River Nuclear Solutions Chief Information Officer Jeff Krohn is being honored with a Bronze Stevie Award in the COVID-19 response category of the annual International Business Awards program.


Krohn is receiving accolades not only from the executives who judged him to be the top contender, but also from the SRS workforce.

“When COVID-19 began to impact the Savannah River Site, Jeff led IT teams through unprecedented challenges to manage explosive growth in teleworking,” said Tonya Tran, SRNS principal systems engineer, who submitted the nomination. “Given the stringent security regulations imposed upon the applications, infrastructure, and employees here at SRS, this was a monumental task that was managed professionally and successfully. He strongly advocated for teleworking to maximize protection for employees while minimizing the impact on SRS missions."

During the judging process, one executive wrote, “Mr. Krohn demonstrated extreme competence in his executive leadership skills,” while another wrote, “Mr. Krohn was adaptable towards the safety of the workforce and supported his team to work through changing needs. It was impressive.”

A virtual awards ceremony to celebrate the winners and their accomplishments is set for Dec. 8.

-Contributor: DT Townsend

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