David Abrams, a recent graduate of N3B’s Radiological Control Technician Boot Camp, scans a drum of waste for radiation. The boot camp is a 12-week program. Participants are compensated for their work while earning college credit and commit to work for N3B for a minimum of one year. Photo Courtesy N3B
Michael Coyler conducts a full-body frisk of David Abrams to ensure he’s free of radioactive contamination. Coyler and Abrams are recent graduates of N3B’s Radiological Control Technician Boot Camp. The program prepared them to help store, characterize and remediate drums containing transuranic waste and low-level waste for shipment to offsite disposal facilities. Photo Courtesy N3B
David Abrams spends nearly all his spare time in New Mexico’s wilderness — hiking on Cerro Perdernal where Georgia O’Keefe painted, mountain biking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and maintaining his family’s 10 acres in Nambé, 19 miles north of Santa Fe.
Abrams’ love for the outdoors is the driving force behind his career ambition to ensure the region where he’s from remains environmentally sound — a pursuit he recently set in motion after completing a workforce development program that prepares him to clean up waste sites containing chemical and radioactive materials left over from past operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
“I want to make sure northern New Mexico is as protected and safe as it can be so future generations and people who love this place as much as I do are protected,” Abrams said. “This place is my home, so of course I want to take care of it for myself and my neighbors.”
The Radiological Control Technician Boot Camp Program that Abrams recently completed is a joint initiative between the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos and Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B), the contractor responsible for legacy waste cleanup at LANL. Participants in the program are trained to monitor work environments for radioactive materials, control radioactive materials appropriately, handle emergency responses and perform decontamination procedures as needed.
“I’m helping get hazardous waste off the hill and shipped to the appropriate site while protecting our water, soil and air,” Abrams said.
With a degree in geology from the University of New Mexico, Abrams, 36, hopes to take advantage of N3B’s educational reimbursement program to pursue a master’s degree in hydrology or environmental science. And he’s already on his way to experiencing a lucrative career path, he said.
“A background as a radiological control technician opens up a lot of doors, maybe because you’ve seen the cleanup process from the bottom up,” Abrams said. “I’d like to move up in my career to make sure the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and waste shipping and receiving requirements are being met. This is going to be springboard for that type of career.”
Students in the boot camp receive 10 college credits, paid for by N3B, after completing 12 weeks of classroom instruction at the UNM-LA campus, along with field training at various N3B cleanup sites. Students also receive paid compensation during the program and agree to work for N3B for one year. Eight students, including Abrams — from Española, Chimayo, Los Alamos and Abiqui — completed the program on Nov. 13. On Nov. 4, N3B and UNM-LA also launched a Waste Processing Operator Boot Camp to train students in the proper handling, packaging, treatment and documenting of chemical and radioactive waste.
Another batch of students is going through the 96-week Apprenticeship Program to become nuclear operators. This program is offered once a year in conjunction with Northern New Mexico College and graduates receive nationally recognized industry credentials, along with the potential for federal assistance like tuition support and tax credits.