It is now becoming clear that relatively few U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) waste sites will be cleaned up to the point where they can be released for unrestricted use. "Long-term stewardship" (activities to protect human health and the environment from hazards that may remain at its sites after cessation of remediation) will be required for over 100 of the 144 waste sites under DOE control (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999). After stabilizing wastes that remain on site and containing them as well as is feasible, DOE intends to rely on stewardship for as long as hazards persist—in many cases, indefinitely. Physical containment barriers, the management systems upon which their long-term reliability depends, and institutional controls intended to prevent exposure of people and the environment to the remaining site hazards, will have to be maintained at some DOE sites for an indefinite period of time.
The Committee on Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes finds that much regarding DOE's intended reliance on long-term stewardship is at this point problematic. The details of long-term stewardship planning are yet to be specified, the adequacy of funding is not assured, and there is no convincing evidence that institutional controls and other stewardship measures are reliable over the long term. Scientific understanding of the factors that govern the long-term behavior of residual contaminants in the environment is not adequate. Yet, the likelihood that institutional management measures will fail at some point is relatively high, underscoring the need to assure that decisions made in the near term are based on the best available science. Improving institutional capabilities can be expected to be every bit as difficult as improving scientific and technical ones, but without improved understanding of why and how institutions succeed and fail, the follow-through necessary to assure that long-term stewardship remains effective cannot reliably be counted on to occur.
Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites examines the capabilities and limitations of the scientific, technical, and human and institutional systems that compose the measures that DOE expects to put into place at potentially hazardous, residually contaminated sites.