LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – Twelve newly trained nuclear waste processing operators received their nuclear waste processor or handler certifications last week after completing a 16-week boot camp program offered by Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B). N3B operates the Los Alamos Legacy Cleanup Contract for the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office.

Each graduate received a full-time work assignment at N3B after passing a waste operator comprehensive exam.

N3B conducts the Nuclear Waste Processing Operator (NWPO) Boot Camp in partnership with the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos (UNM-LA). Students earn 10 college credits for the program. The curriculum combines on-the-job training for waste remediation as part of the legacy cleanup mission at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and classroom instruction at UNM-LA led by N3B instructors who have been awarded letters of academic title as faculty members.

One of the new graduates is Steven Flores, originally from Pecos, New Mexico, near Santa Fe. After high school Flores moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend college and work at several production jobs. He decided to move back to Northern New Mexico and took advantage of the NWPO Boot Camp training. He’s a processing operator and initially will be shadowing an experienced technician working with hazardous materials.

“The boot camp was a great step for me,” said Flores. “There’s no better way to break into a good career in DOE remediation work.”

Boot camp participants receive a competitive wage and full benefits while they are in the program. N3B pays tuition for boot camp participants and for boot camp graduates who pursue an associate degree in nuclear enterprise science and technology at UNM-LA.

“The NWPO Boot Camp program has been very successful,” said Paul Allen, dean of instruction at UNM-LA. “Many of these participants may not have seen themselves as prospective college students. But when they complete this certification, they see they can manage college coursework, and that provides them with an incentive to continue their education.”

This was the fourth NWPO Boot Camp session, and 40 students have graduated from the program over the past four years.

N3B also offers a Radiological Control Technician (RCT) Boot Camp through a similar arrangement with UNM-LA. The RCT Boot Camp has been offered twice with a total of 30 graduates.

Elias Salazar, originally from Española, New Mexico, was a member of the first NWPO Boot Camp class in 2020 and he also earned his RCT certification earlier this year. Salazar is now an RCT-2 on the N3B Environmental Remediation team. He recalls that the NWPO Boot Camp instructors created a clear path in the training.

“We knew what we had to learn, and they walked us through it one step at a time, so we were fully qualified at the end,” Salazar said. “Both boot camps set me up for a lot of success.”

N3B Operations Manager James O’Grady said, “The NWPO and RCT boot camp programs are critical in helping us train and retain the staff we need to support our work to clean up legacy waste at Los Alamos. I’m confident the boot camps and the experience these graduates gain as they work with us will serve as the foundation for successful careers long after we complete our mission here.”


Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos Director of Training Mark Russell, rear, with the September graduating class of the Nuclear Waste Processing Operator Boot Camp.