64°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Three years of sampling show tritium remains undetectable in Nye water

The Nevada National Security Site, formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, was the home of numerous nuclear experiments and while these may have provided a level of readiness for the country in terms of potential conflict, they also left behind a legacy of uncertainty.

Safety concerns are generally foremost in the minds of those discussing the NNSS and for many, water is of the highest priority. For this reason, several entities, including Nye County, operate programs specific to ensuring the radiation released by former nuclear testing and weapons development does not reach the public’s drinking water.

In 2015 Nye County received a $1.25 million grant that kick-started the Nye County Tritium Sampling and Monitoring Program. After three consecutive years of testing, lab results continue to show that tritium levels remain undetectable in the water downgradient of the Nevada National Security Site.

“2017 was the third year of sampling under the grant and Nye County sampled 20 locations… The lab report indicates all samples were below the detection limits of 291 picocuries per liter,” Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Office Geoscientist John Klenke explained of the latest results. “Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen with a half-life of 12.3 years. Tritium is sampled for in the water because it is one of the most abundant radionuclides generated by an underground nuclear test and because it is a constituent of the water molecule itself, it is also one of the most mobile.”

According to www.physics.isu.edu, tritium is typically used in research, fusion reactors and neutron generators. Low energy beta radiation is produced by the decay of tritium particles but this radiation cannot penetrate human skin, making inhalation and ingestion the most hazardous forms of exposure. Even so, the isotope is only a significant health risk if the intake is in large quantities, the website detailed.

Though the molecule is not extremely dangerous, tritium can act as something of an early warning system for more malignant chemicals. With tritium’s abundance and mobility comes the opportunity to observe a precursor to possible radioactive contamination in the groundwater that nourishes the communities of Beatty and Amargosa.

If tritium levels begin to spike in the watershed, it could indicate major movement by other, more dangerous radioactive chemicals and give the county time to take action.

Of the 20 locations that were sampled by Nye County in 2017, 17 were wells and three were springs. Klenke detailed that samples were taken on October 19 and then again on November 28, 2017. These included the first 10 sites identified for testing by the county in 2015 and an additional 10 sites, comprised of eight wells and two springs.

“The 2017 samples were taken in the vicinity of Beatty and Amargosa and were all downgradient of the NNSS,” Klenke stated. “Four duplicate samples and three blank ones were also taken to meet quality assurance requirements.”

The samples were tested through use of the standard tritium analysis method by Radiation Safety Engineering Inc. of Chandler, Arizona. All of the samples fell well below the Safe Drinking Water Act limit for tritium, which is 20,000 picocuries per liter. In fact, the samples taken had such a minute amount of the radioactive hydrogen isotope that they did not even trigger the detection level of 291 picocuries per liter.

Tritium monitoring in the water supply may be a major focus but it is far from the only effort to ensure public safety. Klenke noted that two other entities conduct sampling in the area of the NNSS, including the U.S. Department of Energy through the National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Field Office and the Community Environmental Monitoring Program. In addition to tritium, the DOE tests for other radionuclides and the CEMP operates an air quality monitoring program as well.

“Nye County Tritium Sampling and Monitoring Program personnel keep in contact with both these programs to help ensure the tritium sampling work being done is both complementary and comprehensive,” Klenke said.

The Nye County tritium program is funded through a five-year U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Office grant. For more information contact the Nye County Nuclear Repository Project Office at 775-727-7727.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Local Salvation Army hit by thieves

As Pahrump’s Salvation Army prepares to serve families in need during the holiday season, approximately $500 worth of new toys set aside for its annual Angel Tree program were recently stolen, along with Christmas decorations and items being stored for the Kiwanis Club and Pahrump’s Sleep In Heavenly Peace organization.

Pahrump community comes together for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for appreciation and for hundreds of Pahrump area residents and visitors, there was plenty to be grateful for this year at the Pahrump Holiday Task Force’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

Pahrump Valley Academy virtual town hall set for Saturday

Throughout much of 2019 and into 2020, a group of local residents hoping to add a new educational option to the valley worked diligently toward establishing Pahrump Valley Academy, which would have been the valley’s very first public charter school, only to have the proposal nixed in early 2020.

Rotary Club encouraging students to read

The Pahrump Rotary Club has performed countless community service projects since its inception in 1987.

Bowling for Our Wounded Warriors – Fundraiser set for Dec. 5

Donning a U.S. armed forces uniform is something that comes with great risk and the men and women who step up to take on the challenge of protecting America through military service often come home with injuries, both the visible and the invisible kind.

Man calls 911 while speaking to deputies, report says

Nye County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested a man who allegedly called 911 for a complaint about loud music at a residence along South Chippewa Street last week but ended up getting arrested himself.

Development of Pahrump’s Kellogg Park tracking right along

Development of Pahrump’s newest park, Kellogg Park on the southern end of the valley, continues to move along steadily, with a variety of milestones reached in recent months and officials with the town of Pahrump and Nye County now setting their sights on the next steps of the development process.

PLAC to decide on Rough Hat recommendations; meeting Nov. 30 in Pahrump

Throughout its many years, the Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Committee hasn’t seen a whole lot of community involvement, with the group historically hosting its monthly meetings amid almost empty audiences.

Together With Veterans hosting SWOT assessment meeting in Pahrump

The men and women who have served in the United States military have given of themselves, made sacrifices on a daily basis and put the safety of others before themselves in order to protect America but when service comes to an end and they return to civilian life, the transition can be jarring.

Beatty Advisory Board deals with trails, racing, blue light

There will be no informal election to choose appointees to the Beatty Town Advisory Board. Randy Reed and Erika Gerling, whose terms expire at the end of the year, were the only people to submit letters of interest, so the Board voted, at their Nov. 22 meeting, to forward their names to the Board of County Commissioners for reappointment.