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Testing shows no sign of radioactivity in Beatty/Amargosa water

The former Nevada Test Site may have changed its name but that can’t erase the legacy of concern left behind following decades of nuclear testing there.

Now known as the Nevada National Security Site, the area is home to radioactive contamination. One thing Nye County officials want to make sure of is that this contamination does not affect the groundwater supplies for its community members, with the towns of Amargosa and Beatty, both located downgradient of the NNSS.

To that end, Nye County has administered the Tritium Sampling and Monitoring Program, or TSaMP, for the last eight years and each year, no radioactivity has been detected. For the 2023 program, the outcome was no different, with Nye County Geoscientist John Klenke releasing the results of last year’s effort late last month.

“The 2023 program was the eighth year of sampling under the 12-year grant from the U.S Dept. of Energy, which means we have two more years of tritium sampling left, this year and next,” Klenke reported. “Results for all samples came back as non-detects.”

This means that there are still no detectable amounts of tritium in the groundwater downgradient of the NNSS.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and was one of the radioactive chemicals produced in abundance during nuclear testing at the NNSS. The isotope is highly mobile due to its ability to become a constituent of water molecules and therefore, scientists use it as a sort of early warning system. When no tritium is found, it can be assumed that other, less mobile radioactive chemicals are not making their way into the groundwater either.

Between Nov. 13 and Dec. 13, 2023, the TSaMP program sampled 10 “core wells”, which included eight wells and two springs, plus an additional 10 new locations, nine of which were wells and one of which was a spring.

Klenke said his team found it necessary to use nearby “surrogate” locations for three of the core wells, due to various circumstances. In two cases, the wells that would typically be sampled are currently instrumented for AngloGold Ashanti’s North Bullfrog large-scale pump test while the third well, known as the Ruby Store Well, is no longer accessible.

“No Nevada National Security Administration/Nevada Field Office wells were samples as these were also instrumented with transducers,” Klenke noted. “Samples were from the same general areas as in previous years, 2015 to 2022, which is to say downgradient of the Nevada NNSS in the vicinity of Beatty and Amargosa.

“Three locations that were previously sampled in 2019 were resampled in 2023 to confirm, by using unenriched sampling methods, tritium levels have remained undetectable,” Klenke continued. “In addition to the location samples, four duplicates and four blanks were analyzed to meet the quality assurance and quality control requirements. Results for all 20 samples plus the 8 QA/QC samples came back as non-detects.”

Samples were analyzed by Radiation Safety Engineering.

For more information on the TSaMP program contact Klenke at JKlenke@NyeCountyNV.gov.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com.

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