The United States Air Force maintains several active military installations in southern Nevada. Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) is located on the northeastern edge of Las Vegas, and has been used for flight operations since 1929. It consists of three areas encompassing about 11,200 acres – the main base, Areas II and III, and the Small Arms Range.
The Nellis Air Force Range (NAFR) was established in 1940, and is the largest land-based military range in the United States. NAFR occupies about 3 million acres of high Nevada desert northwest of Las Vegas. This area is comprised of the North Range (including the Tonopah Test Range), South Range, and the Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Field. Military infrastructure built on the NAFR include simulated targets and threats, roads, radar sites, navigation and communication installations, utilities, airfields and associated support buildings. About one-fourth of the site lies within the Desert National Wildlife Refuge; established in 1936 to protect the Desert Bighorn Sheep. NAFR borders the Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain site.
The mission of the NAFR is to provide a safe and secure environment in which air- and ground-based military activities can be conducted. These activities include pilot and crew training, combat exercises, and testing of new aircraft and weapons systems. The isolated location of NAFR achieves operational security and public safety by providing a sufficient buffer zone between military operations and the public.
Nellis AFB conducts a multitude of activities to ensure the Air Force maintains skilled instructors, knowledge of potential adversaries, technical expertise, effective equipment and sound tactics. Nellis provides training for composite strike forces that include every type of aircraft in the Air Force inventory, along with air and ground units of the Army, Navy and Marines. Training also is provided for air units from North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, and from other friendly nations.
Past and present operations at Nellis AFB are responsible for hazardous wastes. Activities that generate waste include fuel-handling, vehicle and aircraft maintenance and cleaning, fire training, and infrastructure maintenance and construction. Wastes commonly produced may include fuel (gasoline, diesel and jet fuel) and oil, greases and lubricants, solvents, paint, batteries, filters and construction debris.
Environmental investigations at Nellis AFB have been undertaken through the Installation Restoration Program (IRP). The first major environmental study was a program records search. A number of sites have already been investigated and closed since field investigations began. Several other sites continue to be investigated or are in active remediation. Contaminants found in ground water or soil include chlorinated solvents (trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene and 1,2-dichloro-ethane), free product gasoline and jet fuel, fuel degradation compounds (BETX – benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene) and nitrates. Conventional remediation techniques currently are being utilized at some sites such as soil vapor extraction and a pump-and-treat system for ground water cleanup. Innovative methods (bioventing and biosparge systems, bioreactor system, two-phase extraction system and ozone sparging system, oxygen release compound, and monitored natural attenuation) also have been evaluated for use at other sites.