Page 1

Executive Summary

The National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) undertook this study in response to a request from the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management (EM) of the Department of Energy (DOE) for advice on research that could lead to new approaches for deactivation and decommissioning (D&D) of surplus nuclear facilities at DOE sites. 1 DOE constructed over 20,000 such facilities throughout the country to support nuclear weapons production and other activities. Most of these facilities will eventually undergo D&D as part of EM's site cleanup mission. EM has estimated that use of new technologies may save about half of the $30 billion that it currently estimates as the cost for facility D&D. New technologies are also necessary to reduce hazards to workers, especially in D&D of the more highly contaminated and complex facilities.

The Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP) was chartered by Congress to bring the nation's science infrastructure to bear on EM's cleanup mission by funding basic, mission-oriented research. The objective of this report is to provide recommendations to the EMSP on the development of a long-term research agenda that may lead to new technologies for D&D of the complex, highly contaminated facilities formerly used by DOE. The study committee was asked to

  • identify significant D&D problems that cannot be addressed effectively with current technologies and

  • recommend areas of research where the EMSP can make significant contributions to solving these problems and add to scientific knowledge generally.

1In the context of this report, facilities are buildings and the equipment inside the buildings. Deactivation involves placing a facility in a safe shutdown condition, and decommissioning includes actions such as decontamination or dismantling at the end of the life of a facility to retire it from DOE service. See Chapter 2.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
Page 1 Executive Summary The National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) undertook this study in response to a request from the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management (EM) of the Department of Energy (DOE) for advice on research that could lead to new approaches for deactivation and decommissioning (D&D) of surplus nuclear facilities at DOE sites. 1 DOE constructed over 20,000 such facilities throughout the country to support nuclear weapons production and other activities. Most of these facilities will eventually undergo D&D as part of EM's site cleanup mission. EM has estimated that use of new technologies may save about half of the $30 billion that it currently estimates as the cost for facility D&D. New technologies are also necessary to reduce hazards to workers, especially in D&D of the more highly contaminated and complex facilities. The Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP) was chartered by Congress to bring the nation's science infrastructure to bear on EM's cleanup mission by funding basic, mission-oriented research. The objective of this report is to provide recommendations to the EMSP on the development of a long-term research agenda that may lead to new technologies for D&D of the complex, highly contaminated facilities formerly used by DOE. The study committee was asked to identify significant D&D problems that cannot be addressed effectively with current technologies and recommend areas of research where the EMSP can make significant contributions to solving these problems and add to scientific knowledge generally. 1In the context of this report, facilities are buildings and the equipment inside the buildings. Deactivation involves placing a facility in a safe shutdown condition, and decommissioning includes actions such as decontamination or dismantling at the end of the life of a facility to retire it from DOE service. See Chapter 2.

OCR for page 1
Page 2 In recommending specific areas of research the committee was asked to take into account, where possible, the agendas of other D&D-related research programs. The statement of task also suggested that the committee make recommendations, as appropriate, on the processes by which future research needs can be identified and successful research results can be applied to DOE's D&D problems. In addition, in his two presentations to the committee, Mark Gilbertson, Director of EM's Office of Basic and Applied Research, asked the committee to suggest a vision for the EMSP. Facilities That Pose Significant D&D Problems In its fact finding the committee visited DOE's Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Rocky Flats sites. It also received presentations from the Savannah River Site and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. The committee found that the DOE facilities that are likely to pose the greatest challenges for future D&D are those formerly used for radiochemical processing of irradiated nuclear fuel and target assemblies (for production of plutonium, tritium, and other nuclear materials); uranium enrichment by gaseous diffusion; plutonium processing; and tritium processing. The committee found that, while current D&D technologies probably can be made to work in the D&D of these facilities, there are opportunities to do the job more safely and effectively by developing and using new technologies. Many current technologies are labor intensive and time consuming. Most current D&D technologies require hands-on contact by workers who must operate powerful equipment (e.g., torches, saws, and lifting devices) while wearing bulky protective clothing. The facilities listed above will present hazards to workers that include penetrating radiation, airborne contamination, toxic chemicals, and other industrial hazards (see Chapter 2). Within some processing cells the levels of radiation are potentially lethal. Most of these facilities are also problematic in terms of their number, size, and mass. For example, a typical radiochemical processing facility is 1000 feet long with four-foot thick concrete shielding walls. The committee concluded that:

OCR for page 1
Page 3 There are strong safety and economic incentives for developing and using innovative D&D technologies that may be achieved through scientific research. The long time frame for completing D&D (50 years or more) allows for substantive research to be completed and applied. Research Recommendations The EMSP should focus on long-range basic research targeted on broad (site wide) or major (essential to one or a few sites) D&D needs. Research projects should address significant long-term problems to advance the state of knowledge well beyond the next decade. This approach maintains the EMSP long-term mission. Nevertheless, opportunities for research that provides high potential payoff in addressing urgent near-term needs may arise. As a practical matter, the EMSP may well encounter a range of research opportunities that span short- and long-term needs as well as provide for contingent approaches for D&D. The committee found that there are four major areas of research where the EMSP can make significant contributions to solving D&D problems and contributing to scientific knowledge. These areas are characterization of contaminated materials, decontamination of equipment and facilities, remote intelligent systems to enhance worker safety, and end-state definition for facility D&D. Characterization Characterization of contaminated materials is necessary at several stages of D&D. Substantial cost savings may result from basic research toward developing the means, preferably real-time, minimally invasive, and field usable, to locate, identify, and quantify contaminants difficult to measure in construction materials such as concrete and stainless steel, on equipment, and in packaged wastes. The committee made three recommendations in the area of characterization. Basic research leading to ultra-sensitive devices for rapid characterization and certification of amounts of radionuclides and EPA-listed substances on the surfaces of construction materials and equipment (e.g., pumps, motors). Basic research leading to development of real-time and minimally invasive methods to characterize radionuclides and EPA-listed

OCR for page 1
Page 4 substances as a function of depth in construction materials, especially concrete. Basic research leading to the development of methods for remotely mapping radionuclides and EPA-listed substances. Decontamination Decontamination of equipment and facilities is necessary at several stages of the D&D process to minimize the radiation exposure to personnel and to reduce the volume of radioactive waste generated. Scientific understanding of the interactions among contaminants and construction materials is required to develop more effective decontamination technologies. The committee made two recommendations in the area of decontamination. Basic research toward fundamental understanding of the chemical and physical interactions of important contaminants with the primary materials of interest in D&D projects, including concrete, stainless steel, paints, and strippable coatings. Results should be used to develop first-principle models that describe the interactions and can be used to investigate improved approaches to decontamination. Basic research on biotechnological means to remove contaminants from surfaces and from within porous materials found in surplus DOE facilities. Robotics Industrial safety is a major issue in D&D projects because many current technologies require hands-on labor in hazardous areas. The major opportunities for reducing risks to workers lie in development of intelligent remote systems (robots) that can substitute for human workers in hazardous areas. The committee recommends basic research toward creating intelligent remote systems that can adapt to a variety of tasks and be readily assembled from standardized modules, with special emphasis on actuators, universal operational software, and virtual presence. End States The definition of end states for D&D facilities and of standards for release of materials for recycling will have a major impact on cost, schedule, and risks to the public, workers, and the environment.

OCR for page 1
Page 5 However,there is insufficient scientific basis for comparing the safety of various end states. Research should be directed toward understanding the fate and behavior of treated and untreated contaminated material by determining the fundamental chemical species of the contaminants in the host material and how the species behave. The effect of time and changing ambient conditions should be considered in these investigations. Further research should be directed at incorporating these results into risk assessments to evaluate and compare the long-term safety provided by different end-state options. Programmatic Recommendations The statement of task asked the committee to take into account, where possible, the agendas of other D&D-related research programs in recommending areas for research. It also suggested that the committee consider and make recommendations on identifying science needs and applying successful research results to DOE's D&D problems. Although many areas of basic research are potentially relevant to D&D, the committee did not find any U.S. agencies that fund targeted D&D research in a way that is comparable to the EMSP. There are opportunities for the EMSP to cooperate in international D&D research programs (see Chapter 3). Through site visits and presentations the committee developed its own judgments on research needs and opportunities (see Chapter 4). However, the best that this committee or any other advisory committee can do is to provide a snapshot overview. In-depth understanding of research needs and the maturing of promising research results to deployable technologies can be achieved only by those who live with D&D challenges on a sustained basis. The EMSP's best opportunities for in-depth identification of science needs and development of promising research results lie with site contractors and involved scientists. International Cooperation There are opportunities for greater cooperation between the EMSP and foreign research programs in the area of D&D. Cooperation or partnerships could save money and time and could even increase the topics that can be addressed. Cooperation may also open doors for marketing U.S. technologies abroad.

OCR for page 1
Page 6 The EMSP should pursue partnerships or cooperation in international research programs. These interactions should include information sharing, conferences, jointly funded research projects, and exchange of personnel at the scientific staff level. Science Needs Identification There is no complete, comprehensive, and coordinated definition of D&D science needs for the DOE complex. The committee saw a variety of needs lists, particularly those from the site technology coordinating groups. Most lists were too narrow, short term, or site specific to help determine where basic research could be helpful. Presentations made to the committee indicated that most attention and funding are aimed at short-term, site-specific D&D problems. While relevance to site-specific problems is important, too narrow a focus may preclude funding novel outside-the-box research with potentially greater impact on D&D. EM should encourage contractors and DOE site management to take a broader, long-term perspective of D&D needs for work to be performed in 10 years or more, so that technology solutions can be developed that provide greatly improved D&D operational capabilities. The EMSP should engage the scientific community more effectively in identifying and participating in promising areas of research. A broad sustained effort by the scientific community to understand and engage in the D&D challenges would allow them to define the scientific information needed and propose relevant topics for research. This would also attract young scientists and engineers to the D&D field at a time when the availability of scientific personnel is declining. Closer interaction between contractors and scientists, for example at the EMSP's biannual workshops, would be beneficial. One of the outcomes of a dialogue between contractors and researchers might be recognition of new and innovative approaches to research issues that would otherwise not be identified. Application of Successful Research Results The EM Office of Science and Technology (OST) faces significant obstacles in promoting the deployment of new technologies, especially in the D&D area. Most presentations to the committee during its site visits expressed the view that current technologies are adequate for the D&D of DOE's facilities—that there are no substantial technology gaps.

OCR for page 1
Page 7The committee found that most of these technologies are labor intensive, time consuming, and therefore expensive. The hands-on nature of current technologies risks exposing workers to radiation, hazardous materials, and industrial hazards. The OST should increase efforts to transition basic research to a deployable product by improving communications and cooperation among the researchers, DOE laboratories, and contractors performing D&D. Incentives for deployment of newly developed technologies that promise advantages over older technologies should be included in D&D contracts. EMSP Vision According to the EMSP's congressional charter (see Chapter 3), the committee believes that the vision must extend to the applications of science and technology that create major benefits for the EM program. The committee's proposed vision statement for the EMSP is as follows: Provide scientific knowledge to allow dramatic improvements in worker safety, cost, and schedule for meeting the national need to clean up DOE sites while protecting public health and the environment. In doing this, the EMSP will be recognized as a key partner by the focus areas and DOE sites, will be supported by Congress and stakeholders, and will be preparing and developing qualified scientists for future DOE program needs. To help achieve this vision the committee believes that the EMSP and the rest of the EM community should develop and pursue aggressive, shared goals for improvements in worker safety, cost, and schedule. The ambitious goals for dramatic improvements (factors of three to ten) set forth in the Robotics and Intelligent Machines Roadmap (Sandia, 1998) are appropriate examples for the EMSP. 2 The committee believes that establishing and pursuing such shared goals will significantly enhance the EMSP's efforts to identify needs and apply results. The EMSP can strengthen itself by emphasizing its role in developing new scientists and engineers and the commercial value of the research that it funds. 2These goals are not the result of the committee's analysis, nor intended to be required of contractors, but are indicative of goals that could be achievable and will help identify true breakthrough areas for research.

OCR for page 1
Page 8