United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

McClellan Air Force Base

1.0 Site Identification

Type of Site: Complex Decommissioning Site
Location: Sacramento, CA
License No.: N/A
Docket No.:
License Status: N/A
Project Manager: Robert L. Johnson

2.0 Site Status Summary

The site of the former McClellan Air Force Base (AFB) is located approximately 11 km [7 mi] northeast of Sacramento, California, in the Northlands area of Sacramento County.  The primary mission of McClellan AFB was the management, maintenance, and repair of aircraft, electronics, and communication equipment.  It also provided other services important to the military, such as radiological laboratory analysis by the Air Force’s Radiological Monitoring, radio and transmitting testing, and aircraft instrumentation.  Over the years, the air base grew to more than 1,376 ha [3,400 ac] in size.  The U.S. Coast Guard also operated a military aviation unit at McClellan AFB.

McClellan AFB was listed on EPA’s superfund list (National Priorities List (NPL) in 1987.  In 1995, under Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) IV, the McClellan AFB was identified for closure. Thereafter, the U.S. Air Force began converting AEC and NRC licenses at McClellan AFB to other licenses or permits that the U.S. Air Force had with NRC.  Before the licenses were terminated, extensive surveys were conducted in the laboratories and buildings to ensure that they were free of radioactive material for unrestricted use.  In the case of the nuclear reactor, the license was transferred to the Regents of the University of California.  University of California-Davis now operates the nuclear research reactor at a business park created on the former McClellan AFB.  In 2001, McClellan AFB closed and parts of the AFB and surrounding area were converted into a business park. 

The site has both hazardous chemical and radiological contamination. Radiological contamination consists of: 1) radium-226 from aircraft dials and a radium paint shop; 2) buried radiological material from the Radiological Monitoring Lab; and 3) exempt quantities used as laboratory standards or for training. The Radiological Monitoring Lab analyzed air samples with very small amounts of radionuclides from foreign atmospheric test of atomic weapons. This material is classified under Section 91(b) of the Atomic Energy Act and is outside of NRC’s jurisdiction. Regarding licensable material, the Air Force concluded that there is the potential for small amounts of radiological material to be present in one of the disposal pits that would be associated with the terminated Atomic Energy Commission licenses. However, the Air Force also concluded that it is impossible to definitively demonstrate that licensed material was not placed in the pits without exhuming them and exhaustively characterizing the contents. The NRC , therefore, assumes the potential for licensable material to be present and that NRC has jurisdiction for this material.

Under Superfund law, the military service that operated a base also is responsible for implementing the cleanup under CERCLA. This remediation is done with oversight by EPA and state regulatory agencies under a Federal Facilities Agreement signed in 1990.

3.0 Major Technical or Regulatory Issues

Regarding radium-226 contamination, NRC’s jurisdiction for the military radium-226 contamination has not been resolved.  NRC published a draft Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) on July 8, 2011, that clarifies NRC’s jurisdiction for certain types of military radium, including contamination and provides approaches for NRC involvement.  However, NRC and DoD are discussing DoD comments on the draft RIS and until NRC’s involvement with military radium-226 is resolved and the RIS finalized, NRC does not plan on formal oversight activities at McClellan.  However, considering the potential for small amounts of licensable material and the potential for NRC jurisdiction over military radium-226 contamination, NRC has been staying informed about the Air Force’s remediation activities under CERCLA and with EPA regulatory oversight.  NRC uses the same process as it does for staying informed about the Navy’s remediation of the Hunters Point Shipyard site where it relies on the Air Force’s remediation under the CERCLA process and with EPA’s independent regulatory oversight.  NRC has stayed informed about all the radiological remediation activities at McClellan, but has particularly followed the Air Force plans and oversight by EPA and the State for the 11 burial pits where remedial actions include a combination of excavation, land use restrictions, and engineered controls. For the past five years since NRC’s Hunters Point decision in 2008, NRC has conducted its annual activities to stay informed about the Air Force’s remediation process and issues.  Based on the results of these activities, NRC decided to continue with its approach to rely on the CERCLA process and EPA’s independent oversight.

4.0 Estimated Date For Closure


Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, November 25, 2013