The underground testing of nuclear devices has generated substantial volumes of radioactive and other chemical contaminants below ground at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Many of the more radioactive contaminants are highly toxic and are known to persist in the environment for thousands of years. In response to concerns about potential health hazards, the U.S. Department of Energy, under its Environmental Restoration Program, has made NTS the subject of a long-term investigation. Efforts supported through the U.S. Department of Energy program will assess whether byproducts of underground testing pose a potential hazard to the health and safety of the public and, if necessary, will evaluate and implement steps to remediate any of the identified dangers.
Test-generated contaminants have been introduced over large areas and at variable depths above and below the water table throughout NTS. Evaluating the risks associated with these byproducts of underground testing presupposes a knowledge of the source, transport, and potential receptors of these contaminants. Ground-water flow is the primary mechanism by which contaminants can be transported significant distances away from the initial point of injection. Flow paths between contaminant sources and potential receptors are separated by remote areas that span tens of miles. The diversity and structural complexity of the rocks along these flow paths complicates the hydrology of the region. Although the hydrology has been studied in some detail, much still remains uncertain about flow rates and directions through the fractured-rock aquifers that transmit water great distances across this arid region. Unique to the hydrology of NTS are the effects of underground testing, which severely alter local rock characteristics and affect hydrologic conditions throughout the region.
Any assessment of the risk must rely in part on the current understanding of ground-water flow, and the assessment will be only as good as the understanding itself. This report summarizes what is known and inferred about ground-water flow throughout the NTS region. The report identifies and updates what is known about some of the major controls on ground-water flow, highlights some of the uncertainties in the current understanding, and prioritizes some of the technical needs as related to the Environmental Restoration Program.
An apparent deficiency in the current understanding is a lack of knowledge about flow directions and rates away from major areas of testing. Efforts are necessary to delineate areas of downgradient flow and to identify factors that constrain and control flow within these areas. These efforts also should identify the areas most critical to gaining detailed understanding and to establishing long-term monitoring sites necessary for effective remediation.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Summary of hydrogeologic controls on ground-water flow at the Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey ;
Information Services [distributor],
iv, 59 p. :ill. (some col.), maps (some col.) ;28 cm.