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Department of Energy renews funding for NMSU-administered Carlsbad environmental monitoring facility

Continuing a relationship that began in 1991, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management, Carlsbad Field Office, has renewed a grant to New Mexico State University. The project value is $14,470,270, with a five-year project period. Administered by the NMSU College of Engineering, environmental monitoring will be performed at the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center.


Woman laying on table under device.
A volunteer performs a lung and whole-body count at Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center’s Internal Dosimetry facility, which provides full-spectrum dosimetry services to evaluate internal radiation exposure to radiation workers and members of the public. The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management, Carlsbad Field Office, has renewed a grant to New Mexico State University for $14 million. (NMSU photo)

CEMRC is a 26,000-square-foot, internationally recognized research facility that conducts environmental and human health monitoring for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant—the nation’s only deep geologic repository for defense-related transuranic nuclear waste. WIPP is the world’s third deep geological repository and is licensed to store radioactive waste for 10,000 years. The WIPP facility is located some 40 miles outside of Carlsbad.

“Since its beginning, CEMRC’s primary mission has been to sustain an independent health and environmental monitoring program in the vicinity of the WIPP facility, making results easily accessible to stakeholders. This provides an independent demonstration of transparency in DOE’s activities as well as environmental stewardship,” said Anderson Ward, site regulatory specialist and technical monitor for the CEMRC grant. “This is achieved through an intensive combination of sampling, analysis, data quality-assurance and scientific interpretation. Current programs include environmental monitoring for naturally occurring radionuclides and those managed at WIPP, volatile organic compounds, in vivo and in vitro bioassay, whole-body dosimetry, as well as soil, water and air characterization.”

The CEMRC-NMSU relationship affords unique opportunities for researchers and employment for graduates in both the hard and soft sciences. Scientists at the facility continue to lead in the development and publication of innovative methods for the analysis of trace amounts of radionuclides.

“Currently, there is a low-background radiation experiment led by scientists from NMSU, which is aimed at understanding the effect of natural radiation on living organisms and will ultimately help to redefine policy on radiation protection,” Ward said. “Also, with the new grant, there will be work to understand the behavior of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Radioactive Materials. These materials are generated by the oil and gas industry during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but some may be present in WIPP wastes so it is important that we be able to identify their source. Also, CEMRC’s experience in monitoring VOCs, will be brought to bear in new initiatives being developed to monitor greenhouse gases in the Permian Basin.”

CEMRC offers a unique range of radiochemistry, environmental, human health monitoring services and is on the lookout for the impact of national and international releases that could impact the U.S. Because of methods developed in house by radiochemist Punam Thakur, CEMRC was the first to detect global fallout from the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident, and provided independent verification of a 2014 unplanned release from WIPP.