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August 31, 2014

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Training prop triggered false alarm at test site

Low-level radioactive waste

A worker walks by containers of mixed waste in the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site of the Nevada National Security Site (N2S2), previously the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas on Feb. 1, 2011. Launch slideshow »

The "suspicious item" that caused a scare Tuesday at the Nevada National Security Site turned out to be a training prop that was left behind after an exercise, officials said Wednesday.

Local and federal law enforcement, site security officers and fire and rescue personnel were called to Area 6, located in the central region of the test site, about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Someone patrolling the security fence of the Device Assembly Facility discovered the prop, which had black electrical tape covering both ends. The object — which officials did not clarify — was lying on the desert ground slightly underneath a bush.

The discovery triggered established safety protocols at the test site. Onsite fire and rescue units and off-site emergency responders established a safety perimeter around the facility and all occupants inside the facility were ordered to shelter-in-place.

Sometime during the investigation, all of the occupants were evacuated from the facility. All of the test site employees were accounted for, and there were no injuries, officials said.

Officials called off the security alert about 8:30 p.m. after determining the prop was "nonthreatening."

"While this event turned out to be a false alarm, it clearly demonstrated that our established emergency management processes and procedures can and do work," said the site's acting manager Steven Lawrence. "As with any event, there will be lessons learned, but overall, I am very proud of how our workforce responded."

The Nevada National Security Site, known formerly as the Nevada Test Site, is an extensive outdoor laboratory and national experiment center located on federal land the size of Rhode Island, about 75 miles northwest of Las Vegas, near Mercury. The site holds some of the nation's stockpile of damaged nuclear weapons and low-level radioactive waste.

The site was established during the Cold War to test nuclear bombs. The nation's first nuclear weapons test was conducted at the site 62 years ago on Jan. 27, 1951.

Although widespread nuclear testing has ceased, underground tests still occur on the site to test the effectiveness of the nation's nuclear weapons. Most recently, scientists tested a small sample of plutonium on Dec. 7.

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