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Technology Development in DOE: Focus Areas and Cross-Cutting Areas

Focus Areas

The five CEMT subcommittees reviewed and evaluated the waste-management technology-development activities in the five focus areas of DOE's EM-50 program. Each of the subcommittees has met with DOE headquarters and field staff who have responsibilities for a focus area. In addition, three of the subcommittees have visited the Savannah River Site (SRS) near Aiken, S.C., where waste-management R&D remediation operations are being conducted.

The subcommittees have studied DOE focus-area planning documents and interviewed several levels of management to assess the applicability and quality of the technology-development programs. The subcommittee reports in Appendix A contain the substance of their assessments, including conclusions and recommendations concerning the work of the focus areas. Some of the conclusions and recommendations in the five reports are strikingly similar and apply to the activities of all five of the focus areas and cross-cutting areas.

In the focus and cross-cutting area studies, some general findings of technology development emerged. These same findings are described as the five major points highlighted in Chapter 2. Some of the specific recommendations for the focus and cross-cutting areas are discussed below.

Recommendations: Plumes Focus Area

  1. The Plumes Focus Area should identify the major risk and cost drivers associated with remediation of DOE contaminant plumes and develop an integrated systems approach to drive technology development that meets the EM strategic goals of risk reduction, cost efficiency, environmental restoration, and regulatory compliance.


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--> 3 Technology Development in DOE: Focus Areas and Cross-Cutting Areas Focus Areas The five CEMT subcommittees reviewed and evaluated the waste-management technology-development activities in the five focus areas of DOE's EM-50 program. Each of the subcommittees has met with DOE headquarters and field staff who have responsibilities for a focus area. In addition, three of the subcommittees have visited the Savannah River Site (SRS) near Aiken, S.C., where waste-management R&D remediation operations are being conducted. The subcommittees have studied DOE focus-area planning documents and interviewed several levels of management to assess the applicability and quality of the technology-development programs. The subcommittee reports in Appendix A contain the substance of their assessments, including conclusions and recommendations concerning the work of the focus areas. Some of the conclusions and recommendations in the five reports are strikingly similar and apply to the activities of all five of the focus areas and cross-cutting areas. In the focus and cross-cutting area studies, some general findings of technology development emerged. These same findings are described as the five major points highlighted in Chapter 2. Some of the specific recommendations for the focus and cross-cutting areas are discussed below. Recommendations: Plumes Focus Area The Plumes Focus Area should identify the major risk and cost drivers associated with remediation of DOE contaminant plumes and develop an integrated systems approach to drive technology development that meets the EM strategic goals of risk reduction, cost efficiency, environmental restoration, and regulatory compliance.

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--> The strategic goal recorded in the Environmental Management Program Strategic Plan (USDOE, 1994b) highlights the goal of reducing plume characterization expenditures by 50 percent by fiscal year 1997, a goal that seems optimistic. An integrated systems approach is recommended because it might enable DOE to achieve such a cost reduction while still obtaining sufficient characterization data. This recommendation is especially important, because numerous contaminant plumes have not been adequately characterized yet. An assessment should be made of what has been accomplished and learned so far in the Plumes Focus Area. Each remediation or demonstration could be probed to identify successes and lessons learned, addressing the questions of what it did and did not accomplish, and why. These lessons learned could provide valuable scientific data in charting progress and learning about remediation attempts and could serve as a guide for future approaches. It is important to look at all learning experiences as well as successes, because these experiences have valuable information content. Eventually, a good rationale for technology development could be developed, ideally based on both field data and theoretical models. DOE should establish a process for developing specific cleanup goals for each of its contaminated sites within the regulatory framework, because the appropriate approach for remediation of a site depends upon the cleanup goals, intended land use, and technical impracticability issues. Recommendations: Landfills Focus Area Greater effort is needed in long-term performance testing and monitoring of engineered containment techniques and systems, including covers, caps, barrier walls, and floors. A problem-solving orientation in technology development is advocated. The subcommittee acknowledges the focus area's efforts to date in these areas and offers three preliminary suggestions to improve and help implement the problem-solving orientation: a)   A ranking/categorization for landfill-related problems based on relative risk would be useful to drive technology development in DOE. These analyses need not use sophisticated models and may already exist to some degree in DOE literature. b)   Technology needs should be established from this risk prioritization and used to identify priority technical tasks. c)   These technical tasks would then be organized into product lines, based on technology rather than the waste type (e.g., TRU/Mixed Waste-Arid; TRU/Mixed Waste-Non-Arid; Low-Level Waste/Other-Arid; Low-Level Waste/Other-Non-Arid) as is currently the practice. The proposed technology grouping would include five product lines: i)   characterization (or assessment), ii)   retrieval (encompassing technology development for any kind of retrieval operations contemplated),

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--> iii)   treatment (including both in-and ex-situ methods), iv)   containment and monitoring, and v)   systems integration and design. Each technical project would benefit from clearly established goals, a strategic plan to guide development, and an action plan describing how these strategic goals are to be met. DOE's current system of ''gate'' reviews is supported and should be used more broadly throughout the Landfills Focus Area as a helpful tool in technology-development planning. Gate reviews are DOE's system of determining the level of maturation for specific technologies. Gates represent the successive stages of technology development in EM-50's "technology maturation model" used to track the project they fund. For instance, the lower-level gates (1–3) correspond to R&D, gate 4 is the stage where the decision whether or not to continue funding the technology is made, and higher-level gates (5 and 6) include demonstration and the final stage of implementation. Recommendations: High-Level Waste in Tanks Focus Area Substantial technology-development needs remain to be addressed if the high-level waste in tanks is to be successfully remediated. The DOE should continue to support a balanced technology-development program integrated across all involved organizations, including EM-30,-40, and-50, and Energy Research. A number of important technology needs related to managing high-level waste in tanks are common to the four DOE sites that have alkaline nitrate supernatant-saltcake-sludge wastes. For the most part, the needs of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL) site are expected to be significantly different from other sites because the waste is acidic. Integrating technology-development efforts would be desirable in order to develop technologies in a cost-effective manner and to share the results to the extent they are applicable at multiple sites. However, the subcommittee has not yet had the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing focus area. Program requirements and constraints for technology development should be specifically defined. Issues that should be considered are waste characterization, retrieval from the tanks, processing, immobilization, site closure, and disposal. Recommendations: Mixed-Wastes Focus Area Because waste treatment is only one, albeit essential, step of the management of radioactive mixed wastes, decisions related to selection of a treatment technology or to development of a new technology should be made in the perspective of optimization of the full waste-management scheme, which includes disposal of the

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--> treated end products. DOE-EM should give full consideration to the characteristics of the final waste form in the perspective of its potential disposal environment. Ultimately, treatment technologies must be evaluated as a total system and in lifecycle context.5 Selection of treatment technology and decisions to develop new technologies should be based on perceived needs associated with specific waste streams and potential advantages with regard to various issues such as types and quantities of wastes, quality criteria that define the end products and their use, and cost. Application of available and near-mature technologies may still leave some waste-treatment problems unsolved and, for the latter, new approaches may be required. Development of new treatment technologies should focus on adequacy and cost effectiveness of existing technologies for mixed-waste treatment, rather than on new, potentially applicable treatment technologies for mixed-waste streams. Adequate characterization of mixed wastes is a critical element for successful and cost-effective implementation of mixed-waste management. Techniques used for characterization of mixed wastes should be adapted and limited to meet the essential requirements of the treatment processes and waste-management systems. Recommendations: Decontamination and Decommissioning Focus Area DOE EM-50 has stated to the D&D Subcommittee that new technologies are needed to perform D&D tasks in safer, better, cheaper, and faster ways than are possible with presently available technologies. However, no documentation of the basis for this premise, which is the justification for the entire technology-development program, has been provided to the subcommittee or identified. Further, no basis was found for establishing the level to which sites should be decontaminated other than the need to comply with statutory, regulatory, and contractual requirements. End-use risk and cost are also major drivers. The tripartite agreements between the state of Washington, EPA, and DOE have been put in place largely without consideration of end use or rigorous risk assessment. As a result, existing statutes and regulations have been applied without adequate analysis of actual risk to populations and the environment. DOE should establish and document criteria to compare and evaluate the effectiveness of existing and candidate technologies and to identify deficiencies in these technologies. Such criteria should include cost effectiveness, probability of success, time of availability, secondary waste streams, and risk to operators and the public. After this evaluation has been accomplished, the basis for projecting the need for and/or the superiority of future technologies should be stated explicitly. The 5   "Total system" means all steps of waste management from generation to disposal. "Life cycle" refers to all costs and efforts related to the application of a technology, i.e., R&D, delays due to new R&D and demonstration, licensing/acceptance, implementation, etc. Some overlap may exist between the two notions, but they are not identical.

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--> process should start with a needs assessment for the D&D Focus Area and should identify available technologies, technology gaps, and criteria for establishing priorities. DOE is also in urgent need of defining criteria by which to decontaminate sites on a "necessary and sufficient" basis within regulatory constraints. Such an exercise might indicate that current technologies are adequate to meet many cost and schedule targets. External peer review should be applied to each of these steps as appropriate. The D&D Focus Area 1995 Strategic Plan's emphasis on relatively mature technologies and large-scale demonstrations, is too narrowly focused (USDOE, 1994b). The D&D Focus Area should revise its strategic plan to provide for a comprehensive D&D technology-development program. This plan should specify a process that will yield a systematic assessment of D&D needs and available technologies, identify technology gaps, develop criteria for establishing priorities, and justify each demonstration project that will be funded and executed. This effort should include a balanced program of basic and applied research, exploratory and advanced development, engineering design, demonstration, and implementation. This strategic plan should also be flexible, including provisions for future periodic revisions as new data and experiences are gained. DOE should address planning in terms of a process, as many organizations have found that the most valuable aspect of any strategic-planning exercise is the process of assembling the plan rather than the specific details of the plan. In order for the plans to succeed, DOE decision makers (and not their support contractors) should draft the plans. DOE managers should set aside time for the planning exercise, which must include the undivided attention of the highest-level decision makers. The plan will succeed best if it has commitment from the highest and broadest levels of management. Different levels of DOE representatives could draft the different plans, but the strategic-planning document must include the highest-level decision makers. Authors of the management plan should include those responsible for managing the plan, and the authors of the implementation plan should include those responsible for implementing the plan. The intent of the above recommendation is to encourage DOE-EM management to identify those activities that are most important and then carry out these high-priority activities effectively. Cross-Cutting Areas Appendix A also contains a report on technologies that are generic to and cut across a number of focus-area programs. Three of these technologies are specifically designated by DOE as cross-cutting and have their own budgetary designations. These formally recognized cross-cutting technologies are (1) efficient separations and processing; (2) characterization, monitoring, and sensor technologies; and (3) robotics technology. In addition to these three areas, there are other technologies that are broadly applicable but not managed individually. The section, Cross-Cutting Areas and Technologies of Importance in Appendix A, also