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Title: Project 57 Air Monitoring Report: October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014

On April 24, 1957, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, now the Department of Energy [DOE]) conducted the Project 57 safety experiment in western Emigrant Valley north east of the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS, formerly the Nevada Test Site) on lands withdrawn by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). The test was undertaken to develop (1) a means of estimating plutonium distribution resulting from a nonnuclear detonation; (2) biomedical evaluation techniques for use in plutonium-laden environments; (3) methods of surface decontamination; and (4) instruments and field procedures for prompt estimation of alpha contamination (Shreve, 1958). Although the test did not result in the fission of nuclear materials, it did disseminate plutonium across the land surface. Following the experiment, the AEC fenced the contaminated area and returned control of the surrounding land to the DoD. Various radiological surveys have been performed in the area and in 2007, the DOE expanded the demarked contamination area by posting signs 200 to 400 feet (60 to 120 meters) outside of the original fence. Plutonium in soil is thought to attach preferentially to smaller particles. Therefore, redistribution of soil particulates by wind (dust) is the mechanism most likelymore » to transport plutonium beyond the boundary of the Project 57 contamination area. In 2011, DRI installed two instrumentation towers to measure radiological, meteorological, and dust conditions. The monitoring activity was implemented to determine if radionuclide contamination was detectable in samples of airborne dust and characterize meteorological and environmental parameters that influence dust transport. Collected data also permits comparison of radiological conditions at the Project 57 monitoring stations to conditions observed at Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) stations around the NTTR. Biweekly samples of airborne particulates are submitted for laboratory assessment of gross alpha and gross beta radioactivity and for determination of gamma-emitting radionuclides. Annual average gross alpha values at the Project 57 monitoring stations are in the same range as the highest two values reported for the CEMP stations surrounding the NTTR. Annual average gross beta values at the Project 57 monitoring stations are slightly higher than the lowest value reported for the CEMP stations surrounding the NTTR. Gamma spectroscopy analyses on samples collected from the Project 57 stations identified only naturally occurring radionuclides. No manmade radionuclides were detected. Thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs) indicated that the average annual radioactivity dose at the monitoring stations is higher than the dose determined at surrounding CEMP stations but approximately half of the estimated national average dose received by the general public as a result of exposure to natural sources. The TLDs at the Project 57 monitoring stations are exposed to both natural sources (terrestrial and cosmic) and radioactive releases from the Project 57 contamination area. These comparisons show that the gross alpha, gross beta, and gamma spectroscopy levels at the Project 57 monitoring stations are similar to levels observed at the CEMP stations but that the average annual dose rate is higher than at the CEMP stations. Winds in excess of approximately 15 mph begin to generate dust movement by saltation (migration of sand at the ground surface) or direct suspension in the air. Saltated sand, PM10 (inhalable) dust, and PM2.5 (fine particulate dust) exhibit an approximately exponential increase with increasing wind speed. The greatest concentrations of dust occur for winds exceeding 20 mph. During the reporting period, winds in excess of 20 mph occurred approximately 1.6 percent of the time. Preliminary assessment of individual wind events suggests that dust generation is highly variable likely because of the influence of other meteorological and environmental parameters. Although winds sufficient to generate significant amounts of dust occur at the Project 57 site, they are infrequent and of short duration. Additionally, the potential for wind transport of dust is dependent on other parameters whose influence have not yet been assessed.« less
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  1. Desert Research Inst. (DRI), Las Vegas, NV (United States)
  2. Desert Research Inst. (DRI), Reno, NV (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Desert Research Institute, Nevada University, Reno, NV (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Country of Publication:
United States