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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for a diverse range of radioactive, hazardous, and mixed low-level wastes; nuclear materials; spent nuclear fuels; and contaminated lands, waters, and fa- cilities (hereafter referred to collectively as "DOE wastes and contami- nated median. These wastes and contaminated media present the fol- lowing general scientific, technical, and social challenges that will endure long into the future (this list of challenges, which was developed by the committee, is discussed more fully in Chapter 2~: . · Remediate (i.e., "clean up") DOE sites' and facilities that have severe radioactive and hazardous waste contamination from past activi- ties. · Manage, stabilize, process, and dispose of a legacy of widely varying and often poorly characterized DOE wastes (including spent nu- clear fuels and nuclear materials treated as waste) that are potential threats to health, safety, and the environment. · Provide effective long-term stewardship2 of DOE sites that have been remediated as well as currently practical, but that have residual risks to health, safety, and the environment. · Develop, open, and operate unique, first-of-a-kind facilities for the permanent disposal of radioactive spent fuels and high-level wastes- many of which will be hazardous for thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. · Limit contamination and materials management problems, in- cluding the generation of wastes and contaminated media, in ongoing and future DOE operations. DOE currently spends approximately $6.7 billion a year to address ' See Sidebar 2.2 for a description of the largest DOE sites. 2 DOE defines long-term stewardship as "all activities necessary to ensure protection of human health and the environment following completion of cleanup, disposal, or stabili- zation at a site or a portion of a site." 1
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2 r ~ A Strategic Vision for DOE Environmental Quality R&D these challenges through the activities of its Offices of Environmental Management (EM) and Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (RW), and some programs within the Offices of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (NE) and Fissile Materials Disposition. DOE refers to the activities addressing these challenges collectively as its Environmental Quality (EQ) "business line."3 Approximately 4 percent of the total EQ business line budget, or $298 million is spent on research and develop- ment (R&D) designed to support the EQ business line. DOE refers to these R&D activities collectively as its "EQ R&D portfolio." The National Academies' National Research Council undertook this study in response to a request from the Under Secretary of Energy to provide strategic advice on how DOE could improve its EQ R&D portfo- lio. In particular, the committee was asked to address the following four questions, focusing on post-2006 R&D: 1. In the context of EQ strategic goals and mission objectives, what criteria should be used to evaluate the adequacy of the portfolio? 2. Using these criteria, what should be the principal elements of the portfolio? 3. Should the portfolio be designed to address environmental problems outside DOE (e.g., Department of Defense, Russia) that are related to EQ strategic goals? 4. How to determine the level of future investments in EQ R&D? SCOPE OF DOE's EQ MISSION It is important to discuss the scope of DOE's EQ mission because any consideration of the adequacy of an R&D portfolio requires a clear understanding of the programmatic objectives that these R&D activities are intended to support. Such clarity is a challenge, however, because DOE's use of the term "environmental quality' is a misnomer that creates a great deal of confusion, both within and outside DOE, and because DOE documents reviewed by the committee are not entirely consistent in describing the EQ mission. The committee discusses the following three aspects of this issue: (1) its topical breadth (i.e., whether it includes, or should be broadened to include, environmental issues beyond wastes and contaminated media); (2) its temporal breadth (i.e., whether it should focus more explicitly on longer-term problems); and (3) its national and international breadth (i.e., whether its responsibilities should be extended to problems outside DOE, such as those in other agencies or nations). 3 EQ is one of DOE's four programmatic business lines (the others are Energy Re- sources, National Nuclear Security, and Science). The programmatic business lines are supported by a corporate management function, which DOE's 2000 strategic plan refers to as a fifth business line.
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Executive Summary The EQ R&D portfolio currently has a large number of important R&D opportunities and gaps, especially in areas requiring long-term R&D.4 The committee believes that it would be inappropriate to consider expanding the topical breadth of the EQ mission until the R&D portfolio adequately addresses these gaps and opportunities. Furthermore, ex- panding the topical breadth of DOE's EQ mission to include all areas of the environment, such as sustainable development and global environ- mental protection, would create significant overlap with DOE's other mis- sions (in particular, the Energy Resources and Science missions), as well as the missions of other federal agencies with longstanding envi- ronmental responsibilities. For these and other reasons discussed in Chapter 2, the committee concludes that the EQ mission should continue to focus on problems associated with DOE wastes and contaminated media. However, this conclusion does not lessen the im- portance of closely coordinating EQ R&D with related R&D efforts by DOE's other business lines. One of the most consistent and important findings of recent studies of the EQ R&D portfolio is that it lacks a long-term strategic vision. The committee believes that this is due in part to the rather limited view of long-term EQ responsibilities in DOE's recent strategic plans (especially the 2000 plan). This short-term emphasis has provided a means for making progress on those aspects of the EQ mission for which technolo- gies exist, but has done much less to address DOE's long-term and most challenging EQ problems,5 such as those associated with the treatment and disposal of high-level radioactive waste and long-term stewardship. This emphasis also may have been misinterpreted by some decision makers to mean that the EQ mission, and particularly its R&D require- ments, will be largely completed by 2006 or 2010. This "going out of business within the next decade" view has served to obscure the reality of DOE's long-term EQ responsibilities. The committee recommends that DOE develop strategic goals and objectives for its EQ business line that explicitly incorporate a more comprehensive, long-term view of its EQ responsibilities. For example, these goals and objec- tives should emphasize long-term stewardship and the importance of limiting contamination and materials management problems, including the generation of wastes and contaminated media, in ongoing and future DOE operations. DOE asked the committee to consider whether the R&D portfolio should address environmental problems outside of DOE that are related 4 Throughout this report the committee uses the term "short-term" to mean 5 years or less, and "long-term" to mean greater than 5 years. 5 The term "EQ problems" refers to the set of technical problems that collectively make up the scientific and technical challenges described earlier. This is a useful concept in planning an R&D portfolio because the challenges are very broad, and must be broken down into manageable parts to be addressed by R&D. 3
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4 A Strategic Vision for DOE Environmental Quality R&D to EQ strategic goals. The committee concludes that it is appropriate for the EQ R&D portfolio to address environmental problems out- side DOE if such R&D is directly related to DOE's EQ mission. At this time, however, the EQ R&D portfolio should not address envi- ronmental problems beyond DOE's jurisdiction that are unrelated to the EQ mission. There may be cases in which spending limited R&D resources on problems outside DOE's EQ mission is appropriate, but deciding when this would be appropriate is less a technical question than a matter of general policy. ADDRESSING LONG-TERM, CURRENTLY INTRACTABLE6 EQ PROBLEMS Many of the problems confronting the EQ business line are long- term, both because they involve materials that remain hazardous, in some cases, for thousands to hundreds of thousands of years and be- cause they are so complex and unique that R&D may have to continue for decades to generate their solutions.7 DOE is responsible for manag- ing, removing (or isolating), and disposing of uniquely hazardous, chemi- cally complex substances, such as spent nuclear fuel, liquid high-level radioactive wastes, nuclear materials, mixtures of hazardous and radio- active compounds, and a wide range of contaminated media (e.g., groundwater, soil, and nuclear production facilities). These activities must be carried out under a wide range of challenging and often unique circumstances. Environmental cleanup, waste management, and dis- posal activities will, of necessity, endure for generations and long-term stewardship at most DOE sites may continue indefinitely. The future should provide opportunities for continual improvements and possible breakthrough technologies that could greatly reduce risks to human health and the environment and costs to future generations. The com- mittee concludes that the uniqueness and complexity of DOE's EQ problems demand that the EQ R&D portfolio have a strong, if not dominant, long-term component. The committee recommends that DOE begin to devote an increasing fraction of its EQ R&D to long- term problems to ensure that an R&D portfolio dedicated to long term problems is in place within five years. The committee also rec- ommends that DOE develop a strategic vision for its EQ R&D port- folio. This vision should provide the framework for developing the science and technology necessary to address EQ problems that 6 The committee uses the term "currently intractable" to refer to problems for which there are no identified, acceptable solutions but for which long-term R&D could lead to such solutions. 7 When the expression "long-term R&D" is used in this report, the committee means "long-term" from both of these perspectives.
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Executive Summary extend beyond the present emphasis of short-term "compliance" and should incorporate the principle of continual improvement. ADVANCING MORE INFORMED DECISION MAKING 5 Numerous decisions on environmental remediation, waste manage- ment, materials storage, and facility decommissioning involve complex technical issues for which there are only limited data and partial scientific understanding. These gaps in knowledge affect DOE's decisions on each of the EQ challenges listed above. It should be emphasized, how- ever, that lack of technical information does not necessarily preclude ef- fective decision making. There are a number of examples of long-term EQ challenges (e.g., long-term stewardship, and geological disposal) where current decisions should include consideration that technology and understanding can be expected to improve considerably during the timeframe of the challenge. For residual contamination at closed legacy sites, for example, the system of long-term stewardship should not preclude future actions to address remaining risks to human health and the environment. The sys- tem should allow future decision makers to re-initiate active cleanup ac- tivities if and when future technologies improve to a point where it makes sense to address remaining risks, or when the understanding of the ef- fects of DOE wastes and contaminated media on human health and the environment improve. For geological disposal of high-level wastes and spent nuclear fuel, DOE should pursue a phased approach that would allow changes to the disposal plans to improve operations, safety, schedule, or cost throughout the decades-long process of emplacement. Such a phased decision process also could be applied to other important long-term EQ problems. DOE's EQ R&D portfolio should support deci- sion making by including R&D on technical alternatives in cases where existing techniques are expensive, inefficient, or pose high risks to hu- man health or the environment, or where techniques under development have high technical risks.8 The committee concludes that the EQ R&D portfolio is critical to improving decision making and should be de- signed to help inform important DOE decisions, including support for technical alternatives in areas of high cost or high risk. ~ Technical risk is defined as "the probability that the technique or method fails to ac- complish the goals and performance requirements set by policy or regulation."
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6 A Strategic Vision for DOE Environmental Quality R&D CRITERIA TO EVALUATE THE ADEQUACY OF THE EQ R&D PORTFOLIO The committee presents its analysis of the important functions of an effective strategic EQ R&D portfolio in Chapter 3. These functions, and the accompanying findings, conclusions, and recommendations, were used to develop a set of criteria to evaluate the adequacy of the portfolio. The committee recommends that DOE use, at a minimum, the fol- lowing 10 criteria for this purpose: 1. There should be no significant gaps in critical areas of sci- ence and technology that are required to address EQ goals and objectives. 2. The portfolio should support the accomplishment of closely related DOE and national missions. 3. The portfolio should include R&D to develop technical alter- natives in cases where: (1) existing techniques are expensive, inef- ficient, or pose high risks to human health or the environment; or (2) techniques under development have high technical risk. 4. The portfolio should produce results that could transform the understanding, need, and ability to address currently intractable problems and which could lead to breakthrough technologies. 5. The portfolio should leverage R&D conducted by other DOE business lines, the private sector, state and federal agencies, and other nations to address EQ goals and objectives. 6. The portfolio should help narrow and bridge the gap be- tween R&D and application in the field. 7. The portfolio should be successful in improving perform- ance, reducing risks to human health and the environment, de- creasing cost, and advancing schedules. 8. There should be an appropriate balance between address- ing long-term and short-term issues. 9. A diversity of participants from academia, national laborato- ries, other federal agencies, and the private sector, including stu- dents, postdoctoral associates, and other early-career researchers, should be involved in the R&D. 10. There should be an appropriate balance of annual new starts, extensions of promising R&D, and periodic new initiatives. PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS OF THE EQ R&D PORTFOLIO The committee was asked to advise DOE on the principal elements of its EQ R&D portfolio. The committee approached this task in two ways: (1) by developing its own list of elements and (2) by developing a
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Executive Summary general methodology that DOE could use to build upon this list of pro- gram priorities to achieve and maintain a more strategic EQ R&D portfo- lio. The committee's list of principal elements is presented below (and discussed more fully in Chapter 3), whereas a summary of the proposed methodology is presented in the next section (and discussed more fully in Chapter 4~. In developing its list, the committee attempted to take a high-level, long-term view of the R&D needed to address DOE's most challenging EQ problems. Accordingly, the elements generally were not defined along existing DOE program lines and are quite broad. The committee recommends that DOE's EQ R&D portfolio in- clude, at a minimum, the following 5 principal elements: 1. Development and evaluation of approaches that reduce the impacts of wastes on human health and the environment through generation minimization; processing improvements, including vol- ume reduction, stabilization, and containment; and disposal. 2. Development of methods and techniques for cutting-edge characterization and remediation of contaminated media, including facilities. 3. Improvement of understanding of the movement and be- havior of contaminants through the environment, with an emphasis on locating and tracking the movement of contaminants in the sub- surFace. 4. Development of mechanisms for effective long-term stew- ardship, including improved institutional management capabilities, appropriate monitoring, and the means to implement future im- provements in technology and understanding. 5. Determination of the risks of DOE wastes and contaminated media to human health and the environment to improve the bases upon which regulatory and societal decisions can be made. PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT PROCESS The committee has described a vision for an EQ R&D portfolio that emphasizes more strongly DOE's long-term EQ problems. To move to- wards this vision, DOE must redesign and rebalance its EQ R&D portfo- lio in substantial ways. In Chapter 4 the committee describes a portfolio management process that could help achieve these goals. For the most part DOE can implement the recommended new portfolio management process through an evolutionary approach, i.e., by modifying and sup- plementing existing management processes. The committee believes this is possible because DOE is already using portfolio management techniques and external reviews have found that management proc- 7
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8 A Strategic Vision for DOE Environmental Quality R&D esses based on these techniques are yielding positive results but could be greatly improved. Such an approach avoids disruptive reorganizations and maintains management focus on the goal, i.e., realizing the new R&D vision. The key elements of this process are discussed briefly be- low. Generating an Improved Set of R&D Project Ideas DOE's present R&D planning processes for the EQ portfolio are de- signed primarily to gather current information needs of the sites (i.e., EM cleanup sites or repositories), which tend to be focused primarily on short-term problems and the R&D to address them. Most of the partici- pants in these processes are DOE employees and contractors who are involved in the site problems and issues, with some periodic input from the broader technical community. The existing R&D planning processes are unlikely to generate the full scope of strategic R&D needed to ad- dress DOE's most challenging, long-term EQ problems. The committee recommends that DOE establish a new mechanism within its port- folio management process whose purpose is to develop a more strategic EQ R&D portfolio. This new process, termed the "Strategic Portfolio Review," should supplement and operate in parallel with existing site-driven processes. The Strategic Portfolio Review should be carried out by an independent planning and review board specifically focused on the EQ R&D portfolio, with membership composed of leaders in the scientific and technical community, in- cluding experts from industry, academia, national laboratories, and affected communities. The expanded set of EQ R&D projects to be considered for funding would consist of projects emerging from the tradi- tional needs processes as well as from the new Strategic Portfolio Re- view. Measuring the Magnitude of the Benefit The committee found that DOE does not have a method for prioritiz- ing R&D activities across the entire EQ portfolio. Each DOE organization that supports EQ R&D activities has its own process for prioritizing and selecting R&D activities. The process used to select over 80 percent of the EQ R&D portfolio (those activities supported by EM) is EM's Work Package Ranking System. The current Work Package Ranking System is strongly biased toward activities that are site-generated and connected to the present remediation plans. Moreover, it is, by design, EM specific and therefore does not apply to other parts of the EQ R&D portfolio. The current ranking system is unlikely to be effective in prioritizing R&D ac-
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Executive Summary 9 tivities designed to address the strategic gaps and opportunities identi- fied in the Strategic Portfolio Review discussed above, especially those not within EM. The committee recommends that DOE develop and implement an evaluation method to address more strategic R&D for the entire EQ R&D portfolio. In the short term, it could be entirely separate from EM's Work Package Ranking System, but, in the longer term, a new approach is needed that works for both site- driven activities and strategy-driven activities and is applied within all areas (i.e., EM, RW, NE) of the EQ R&D portfolio. Several useful non-EM-specific models that have been applied to elements of the EQ R&D portfolio are discussed in Chapter 4. R&D Centers After identifying important strategic R&D activities through the proc- esses described above, it is essential for DOE to provide longer-term support for them, specifically countering the "going out of business within the next decade" philosophy that has permeated some views of the EQ mission. The committee believes that a significant fraction of R&D should be conducted in organizationally separate units to help maintain a focus on long-term results. Each of these units would be strongly coupled to an important, currently intractable EQ problem and evaluated according to progress on solving the problem, but not strongly coupled to short-term program needs. The committee recommends that DOE implement a new approach to provide longer-term funding for organizationally separate, integrated, and coordinated R&D activities (i.e., R&D cen- ters9) designed to solve well-defined, high-priority EQ problems. Chapter 4 provides details on how DOE could implement this approach. DETERMINING AN APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF R&D INVESTMENT EQis DOE's most expensive business line, accounting for approxi- mately $6.7 billion, or 36 percent of DOE's total budget. In contrast, the annual investment in EQ R&Dis the smallest of DOE's programmatic business lines, accounting for only 4 percent of DOE's total R&D spend- ing. These budget data are an indication that decision makers in DOE, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress may not fully un- derstand the magnitude and duration of many of the challenges faced by the EQ business line, and the potential value of long-term R&D to ad- 9 The committee refers to the organizations carrying out the integrated and coordi- nated R&D efforts as "R&D centers" to indicate that the whole of each is greater than the sum of its parts. This synergy could be achieved in more than one way (see discussion in Chapter 4).
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10 A Strategic Vision for DOE Environmental Quality R&D dress such challenges. The appropriate level of R&D funding depends on the scope of the EQ mission and must take into account the balance between spending limited resources on R&D and other possible uses of those resources. Broad-based support for R&D requires a compelling commitment to the goals and objectives of DOE's EQ mission. The committee recommends that DOE develop new strategic goals and objectives for its EQ business line that explicitly incorporate a more comprehensive, long-term view of its EQ responsibilities. After clear goals and objectives have been de- fined, DOE managers and others will have to deal with difficult tradeoffs in determining the level of R&D funding. There are many important short- term problems that call for high-priority allocation of funds. Often rein- forcing or driving these needs are milestones associated with existing compliance agreements between DOE and state environmental regula- tory authorities, congressional expectations, and concomitant expecta- tions of the affected communities and their representatives. In such situations, allocating funds to R&D can be seen as taking resources from meeting short-term requirements or compliance agreements to support activities that are, by their very nature, longer term and more uncertain in their ultimate benefits. It is, therefore, incumbent upon DOE leadership to make clear to all EQ stakeholders the value of a strong and sustained R&D portfolio in addressing long-term EQ problems. It has not been possible to identify an analytic or quantitative ap- proach to establish an appropriate level of EQ R&D funding. There are two general techniques that, together, could be used for this purpose: (1 ) benchmarking against other mission-driven R&D efforts, both nationally and internationally, and (2) applying a set of investment indicators based closely on the adequacy criteria developed earlier. Benchmarking the level of EQ R&D funding against similar programs could provide a meaningful measure for discerning a range of reason- able R&D investment levels. It also could help to explain and justify the level of future EQ budget requests to decision makers within DOE, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress and to other interested parties. The committee recommends that DOE benchmark the EQ R&D budget against other mission-driven federal R&D programs in the federal government. Such benchmarking exercises should have participation or review by outside experts. Proposed budgets should be presented in the context of benchmarking, and signifi- cant deviations from the information gained through benchmarking should be explained. The 10 criteria described earlier to evaluate the adequacy of the EQ R&D portfolio also can be used as guides for determining an appropriate level of investment. The committee's list of these 10 investment indica- tors is provided in Chapter 5. Meeting such criteria is an important indi- cation of an appropriately formulated R&D portfolio. Although the level of
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Executive Summary 11 R&D investment alone cannot guarantee the achievement of these indi- cators, the level of investment should not preclude their achievement. The committee recommends that DOE use investment indicators, together with benchmarking techniques, to help determine the ap- propriate level of EQ R&D investments. CONCLUSION DOE's EQ R&D portfolio must be recognized as centrally important to DOE's EQ and other missions, and an enduring responsibility of the department. R&D success requires an adequate, stable, and predictable level of funding. A well-designed, sufficiently funded, and well- implemented EQ R&D portfolio is necessary, but not sufficient, to assure that the potential value of R&D in addressing DOE's EQ problems is achieved. Many other features must be present, including technically competent and trusted R&D program managers; effective relationships among problem holders, R&D managers and researchers; good commu- nication of R&D results; and incentives for R&D results to be used in solving problems. An effective portfolio also requires close and trusting relationships among the responsible DOE headquarters and local officials, contractors at the sites, state regulatory officials, and stakeholders such as the af- fected community. The nature of successful EQ R&Dis to present op- portunities to reduce risks to workers and the public, improve schedules, decrease costs, and solve problems. But it also can require re- addressing existing agreements, changing schedules, dealing with peri- ods of uncertainty, and revisiting expectations. All of these factors must be resolved for DOE's EQ R&D to achieve its goals. An EQ R&D portfo- lio that is well conceived, effectively managed, adequately and consis- tently funded, and championed by DOE leadership is essential to suc- cess in achieving the DOE EQ mission.
Representative terms from entire chapter: