1
Introduction, Background, and Task

The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP) was established by the 104th Congress1 to bring the nation’s basic science infrastructure to bear on the massive environmental cleanup effort under way in the DOE complex. The objective of the EMSP is to develop and fund a targeted, long-term research program that will result in transformational or breakthrough approaches for solving the department’s environmental problems. The goal (DOE, 2000a, pp. 1-2) is to support research that will

  • Lead to significantly lower cleanup costs and reduced risks to workers, the public, and the environment over the long term.

  • Bridge the gap between broad fundamental research that has wide-ranging applicability . . . and needs-driven applied technology.

  • Serve as a stimulus for focusing the nation’s science infrastructure on critical national environmental management problems.

To help meet these goals, the EMSP provides three-year competitive awards to investigators in industry, national laboratories, and universities to undertake research on problems relevant to DOE cleanup efforts. From its inception in 1996 through fiscal year 2001, the EMSP has provided $294 million in funding for 361 research projects.

This study, addressing transuranic and mixed wastes, is the fourth study undertaken by the National Research Council (NRC) to assist DOE in developing a research agenda for the EMSP.2 The previous three reports gave advice for research in subsurface contamination, high-level waste, and facility deactivation and decontamination (NRC, 2000a,

1  

Public Law 104-46, 1995.

2  

An initial study advised DOE on establishing the EMSP (NRC, 1997a).



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Research Opportunities for Managing the Department of Energy’s Transuranic and Mixed Wastes 1 Introduction, Background, and Task The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP) was established by the 104th Congress1 to bring the nation’s basic science infrastructure to bear on the massive environmental cleanup effort under way in the DOE complex. The objective of the EMSP is to develop and fund a targeted, long-term research program that will result in transformational or breakthrough approaches for solving the department’s environmental problems. The goal (DOE, 2000a, pp. 1-2) is to support research that will Lead to significantly lower cleanup costs and reduced risks to workers, the public, and the environment over the long term. Bridge the gap between broad fundamental research that has wide-ranging applicability . . . and needs-driven applied technology. Serve as a stimulus for focusing the nation’s science infrastructure on critical national environmental management problems. To help meet these goals, the EMSP provides three-year competitive awards to investigators in industry, national laboratories, and universities to undertake research on problems relevant to DOE cleanup efforts. From its inception in 1996 through fiscal year 2001, the EMSP has provided $294 million in funding for 361 research projects. This study, addressing transuranic and mixed wastes, is the fourth study undertaken by the National Research Council (NRC) to assist DOE in developing a research agenda for the EMSP.2 The previous three reports gave advice for research in subsurface contamination, high-level waste, and facility deactivation and decontamination (NRC, 2000a, 1   Public Law 104-46, 1995. 2   An initial study advised DOE on establishing the EMSP (NRC, 1997a).

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Research Opportunities for Managing the Department of Energy’s Transuranic and Mixed Wastes 2001a, 2001b). DOE has used these studies in developing calls for research proposals and for evaluating submitted proposals. A fifth study, addressing excess nuclear materials and spent DOE nuclear fuel, is in progress (NRC, 2002a). After its establishment by Congress and through most of the course of this study, the EMSP was managed through a partnership between the DOE Office of Environmental Management (EM), which has primary responsibility for the cleanup mission, and the DOE Office of Science, which manages basic research programs. The advice provided by the NRC studies, as well as the EMSP’s calls for proposals, reflected EM’s organization of its science and technology development activities into five “focus areas,” which are the topical areas of the NRC studies mentioned above—subsurface contamination, high-level waste, facility deactivation and decommissioning, transuranic and mixed wastes, and nuclear materials (see also Appendix A). As this report was being finalized, EM completed a top-to-bottom review of its organization, which was directed by the Secretary of Energy (DOE, 2002). As a result of the review, the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the Office of Science will become solely responsible for administering the EMSP. The focus area structure under EM will be discontinued. Subject to approval by Congress, these changes will become final at the start of fiscal year 2003. As it finishes its work on this report, the committee3 understands that the EMSP’s previous approaches to issuing calls for research proposals, evaluating submitted proposals for both scientific merit and relevance to EM’s needs, and funding the proposals will remain largely unchanged. Readers of this report who may intend to submit proposals to the EMSP should seek updated information from the DOE Office of Science.4 Statement of Task The statement of task for this study charged the committee to provide recommendations for a science research program for managing mixed and transuranic wastes that are currently stored at DOE sites or will be produced as part of DOE’s site cleanup program (see Sidebar 1.1). To address the statement of task, the committee has made recommendations in four categories in which it believes that EMSP-funded 3   The Committee on Long-Term Research Needs for Managing Transuranic and Mixed Wastes at Department of Energy Sites, which developed this report, is referred to as “the committee” throughout. 4   See http://www.sc.doe.gov/production/ober/ober_top.html.

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Research Opportunities for Managing the Department of Energy’s Transuranic and Mixed Wastes SIDEBAR 1.1 STATEMENT OF TASK The objective of this study is to provide recommendations to the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Science Program for the development of a research agenda to address challenges in managing mixed and transuranic (TRU) wastes that are currently stored at DOE sites or will be produced as part of DOE’s site cleanup program. The study will accomplish the following: Evaluate the next generation of treatment technologies and cleanup approaches for the specific categories of DOE TRU and mixed waste for which current treatment technologies are not adequate, in particular due to new or tightened regulatory requirements or other nontechnical considerations such as nascent public opposition to incineration. Identify gaps in the scientific basis for selecting or implementing new treatment technologies. Identify areas of research where EMSP can make significant contributions to solving DOE’s mixed waste problems and add to scientific knowledge generally, taking into account research funded by other programs besides the EMSP. research is most likely to lead to significant new or breakthrough technologies: waste characterization, retrieval of buried wastes, waste treatment, and long-term monitoring. Characterizing wastes and treating them (as necessary) for shipment to disposal facilities are subjects of intense current efforts at DOE sites. However, the inventory of transuranic and mixed wastes is extensive, and work to dispose of this inventory will continue for 20 years or more, which provide time and incentive for significant research and technology development. Buried waste retrieval and long-term monitoring of waste disposal have received little attention within DOE, but they are likely to present significant obstacles for completing site cleanup. Chapter 2 of this report frames DOE’s broad challenges in managing and disposing of its transuranic and mixed wastes—the large and diverse inventory, multiple and changing regulations, and public concerns. Chapter 3 sets out the committee’s research recommendations in each of the four categories described above. The first subtask asks for an evaluation of next-generation treatment technologies in instances where current technologies may become inadequate for nontechnical reasons—an example being incineration, which was under review by a special DOE panel at the time this committee was chartered. The committee did not attempt to evaluate next-generation treatment technologies per se, but rather identified challenges (technical and nontechnical) likely to confront these next-generation technologies (see Chapter 3). The committee felt that this approach was

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Research Opportunities for Managing the Department of Energy’s Transuranic and Mixed Wastes more fruitful for providing guidance for an EMSP research agenda. Further, the committee concluded that any new technologies or changes to agreed-upon cleanup plans are likely to encounter public opposition unless the public is involved in the selection process (see Chapter 2). In presenting its recommendations, the committee gives a brief discussion of current baseline technologies,5 challenges for next-generation technologies (as discussed above), and research opportunities. Although the discussions were influenced to some degree by the backgrounds and expertise of committee members, the research recommendations were arrived at by a consensus process that considered input to the committee, site needs, the existence of critical knowledge gaps, the potential for future cost and schedule savings, and the possibility of achieving technology breakthroughs. The committee held five meetings between May 2001 and February 2002 to gather information (see Appendix E). The committee’s fact finding included site visits and briefings at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Oak Ridge Reservation (Tennessee), Savannah River Site (South Carolina), Hanford Site (Washington), and Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (New Mexico). The committee also received briefings by DOE headquarters personnel who administer the EMSP and by representatives of EM’s Transuranic and Mixed Waste Focus Area. 5   Baseline technologies are those that are being used at DOE sites or that are commercially available and included in DOE’s site cleanup plans.