2
VALUE OF THE EMSP TO THE CLEANUP MISSION

The Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for cleanup of the nation's nuclear weapons complex, a vast network of industrial sites established during the Second World War and the Cold War to develop, test, and produce nuclear weapons.1 The EM cleanup mission is massive in scope: it includes 3,700 contaminated sites in 34 states and territories; more than 100 million gallons of radioactive and mixed wastes stored in 322 tanks; 3 million cubic meters of radioactive or hazardous buried wastes; 250 million cubic meters of contaminated soils from landfills and plumes; more than 600 billion gallons of contaminated ground water; and about 1,200 facilities that require decontamination and decommissioning.2 The Department estimates3 that cleanup of the weapons complex will cost between about $190 billion and $265 billion and take several decades to complete; these estimates do not include costs for dealing with "intractable" problems such as the large volumes of contaminated soil and ground water around the complex.4

Many of EM's cleanup problems cannot be solved or even managed efficiently and safely with current technologies, in part owing to their

1  

DOE, 1995, Closing the Circle on the Splitting of the Atom: The Environmental Legacy of Nuclear Weapons Production in the United States and What the Department of Energy Is Doing About It (Washington, D.C.: DOE).

2  

From written material received from EM at the first committee meeting, May 11-12, 1996.

3  

DOE, 1996, Estimating the Cold War Mortgage: The 1996 Baseline Environmental Management Report, DOE/EM-0290, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: DOE).

4  

In parallel with this committee's efforts, the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management recently described a "10-year vision" plan through which he intends to focus and accelerate cleanup of the weapons complex. The details of the plan have not yet been made public, but preliminary descriptions recognize that many of the more difficult problems will take longer than 10 years to resolve with current technical understanding. The Department plans to release a draft of the plan during the first quarter of 1997.



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Building an Effective Environmental Management Science Program: Final Assessment 2 VALUE OF THE EMSP TO THE CLEANUP MISSION The Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for cleanup of the nation's nuclear weapons complex, a vast network of industrial sites established during the Second World War and the Cold War to develop, test, and produce nuclear weapons.1 The EM cleanup mission is massive in scope: it includes 3,700 contaminated sites in 34 states and territories; more than 100 million gallons of radioactive and mixed wastes stored in 322 tanks; 3 million cubic meters of radioactive or hazardous buried wastes; 250 million cubic meters of contaminated soils from landfills and plumes; more than 600 billion gallons of contaminated ground water; and about 1,200 facilities that require decontamination and decommissioning.2 The Department estimates3 that cleanup of the weapons complex will cost between about $190 billion and $265 billion and take several decades to complete; these estimates do not include costs for dealing with "intractable" problems such as the large volumes of contaminated soil and ground water around the complex.4 Many of EM's cleanup problems cannot be solved or even managed efficiently and safely with current technologies, in part owing to their 1   DOE, 1995, Closing the Circle on the Splitting of the Atom: The Environmental Legacy of Nuclear Weapons Production in the United States and What the Department of Energy Is Doing About It (Washington, D.C.: DOE). 2   From written material received from EM at the first committee meeting, May 11-12, 1996. 3   DOE, 1996, Estimating the Cold War Mortgage: The 1996 Baseline Environmental Management Report, DOE/EM-0290, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: DOE). 4   In parallel with this committee's efforts, the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management recently described a "10-year vision" plan through which he intends to focus and accelerate cleanup of the weapons complex. The details of the plan have not yet been made public, but preliminary descriptions recognize that many of the more difficult problems will take longer than 10 years to resolve with current technical understanding. The Department plans to release a draft of the plan during the first quarter of 1997.

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Building an Effective Environmental Management Science Program: Final Assessment tremendous size and scope. However, cleanup would benefit greatly from the involvement of basic researchers, as noted in a recent NRC report:5 In some circumstances, technologies and processes for safe and efficient remediation or waste minimization do not exist. In other cases, the development of new technology and processes might substantially reduce the costs of, or risks associated with, remediation and waste management. . . . In some cases, fundamental science questions will have to be addressed before a technology or process can be engineered. . . . There is a need to involve more basic science researchers in the challenges of the Department's remediation effort. The importance of basic research to the EM cleanup mission was highlighted in the report of the Task Force of Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy National Laboratories,6 also known as the Galvin report. The report (p. 6) noted that the Department faces a monumental task in dealing with the radioactive and hazardous wastes at its former nuclear weapons production sites and national laboratories. This task cannot be addressed in an affordable fashion using today's technologies. The report (pp. 40-41) further asserts that there is a particular need for long-term, basic research in disciplines related to environmental cleanup . . .. Adopting a science-based approach that includes supporting development of technologies and expertise . . . could lead both to reduced cleanup costs and smaller environmental 5   National Research Council, 1996, Improving the Environment: An Evaluation of DOE's Environmental Management Program (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press). 6   DOE, Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, 1995, Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy National Laboratories, SEAB—95006873 (Washington, D.C.: DOE).

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Building an Effective Environmental Management Science Program: Final Assessment impacts at existing sites and to the development of a scientific foundation for advances in environmental technologies. The National Research Council called for a closer linkage between basic research and technology development in EM:7 EM has recently begun an effort to coordinate its technology development efforts with the Office of Energy Research, which houses much of the Department's basic research and is the principal office for interaction with nondefense Department National Laboratories. . . . This type of linkage, including the defense-related laboratories, where much of the expertise in nuclear materials resides, is precisely what is called for. . . . The Department should extend this attempt to create partnerships to include the basic-research efforts in universities and industrial concerns that are developing technology or undertaking their own research. The committee agrees with these assessments and believes that a basic research program focused on EM's most difficult cleanup problems may have a significant long-term impact on the EM mission. Basic research may provide new knowledge to allow the Department to attack cleanup problems that are currently intractable or exorbitantly expensive using current technologies; it may lead to the development of better technologies to allow cleanup to be accomplished at lower costs or with fewer hazards to workers and the public; it can improve understanding of risks, and how to discuss them with local stakeholders; and it may lead to the development of new or improved technologies that will allow cleanup to a higher state than is presently possible, thereby making sites available for less restrictive uses. Simply put, new technologies are required to deal with EM's most difficult problems, and new technologies demand new science. 7   National Research Council, 1996 (see footnote 5), p. 117.

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Building an Effective Environmental Management Science Program: Final Assessment A basic research program designed to address fundamental principles may lead to discoveries that change present ways of thinking and lead to more powerful scientific paradigms. Creative investigators are drawn to basic research by the challenge of solving interesting problems in science. There certainly is no shortage of interesting problems related to EM's mission. Indeed, the committee believes that a basic research program focused on EM's problems could transcend the EM program and be useful in the much larger scientific and environmental arenas. Such broad applicability is a typical outcome of basic research. Basic research already has helped in the cleanup effort. For example, Basic research on the kinds of chemical and biological reactions that transform pollutants has led to treatment approaches for contaminants. For example, many organic contaminants that exist at DOE sites (chlorinated solvents and hydrocarbons) can be biodegraded. This has led to great interest in the use of bioremediation for control of contaminated ground waters and soils.8 Bioremediation can be used in many ways, including biodegradation of concentrated petroleum hydrocarbon contaminants near their source, biodegradation of dilute contaminants in large plumes, removal of residual contaminants following physical or chemical methods, and for capture of metals and radionuclides through microbially mediated transformation processes.9 Numerous case studies of bioremediation treatment systems are published in the Proceedings of the Third International In Situ and On-Site Bioreclamation Symposium.10 Another strategy under development for controlling the risks associated with contaminated subsurface environments is to use hydraulic 8   National Research Council, 1993, In Situ Bioremediation, When Does It Work? (Washington, DC.: National Academy Press). 9   National Research Council, 1994, Alternatives for Ground Water Cleanup (Washington, DC.: National Academy Press); R. D. Norms, R. E. Honcho, R. Brown, P. L. McCarty, L. Semprini, J. T. Wilson, D. H. Campbell, M. Reinhard, E. J. Bower, R. C. Borden, T. M. Vowel, J. M. Thomas, and C. H. Ward, 1994, Handbook of Bioremediation (Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press). 10   Proceedings of the Third International In Situ and On-Site Bioreclamation Symposium, Volumes 1-10, 1995 (Columbus, Ohio: Battelle Press).

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Building an Effective Environmental Management Science Program: Final Assessment barriers to direct contaminated ground-water flow through a reactive medium (NRC, 1994; see footnote 9). The reactive medium can use a combination of physical, chemical, and biological processes. A zero-valent iron permeable barrier has shown promise for the removal of highly chlorinated solvents such as tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene.11 The concept of a permeable treatment barrier is being evaluated for treatment of metals and radionuclides.12 Researchers have discovered anaerobic bacteria that rapidly reduce uranium(VI), which is soluble, to uranium(IV), which precipitates.13 Thus, it may be possible to immobilize uranium and other radionuclide contaminants, such as plutonium and technetium, by stimulating microbial reduction of the metal in the reaction zone of a permeable barrier. The improvement in understanding the role of physical, chemical, and biological processes in the fate of contaminants has led to a big change in the way ground-water cleanups are now being approached and carried out (with tremendous cost savings). There is much interest now in determining if the natural processes are sufficient to keep the risk low and serve as a ''protective barrier" to prevent excessive migration of contaminants. It is difficult to consider the approach of natural attenuation or intrinsic remediation without a firm understanding of the basic physical, biological, and chemical reactions. Some contaminants that are known to strongly sorb to soil have been observed to migrate great distances with ground-water flow. In this situation the contaminant was thought not to be a problem, but the excessive migration means there is an elevated risk. It has been found that the mobility is due to transport of contaminants bound to colloids, not the chemical moving by itself. Knowledge of the behavior of colloids in ground water has led to explanations for why some contaminants can migrate great distances in ground water. This is an example of how basic research on colloid movement and interaction with contaminants has improved our characterization of the risk. 11   E. K. Wilson, 1995, Zero-Valent Metals Provide Possible Solution to Groundwater Problems, Chemical and Engineering News 73(27):19-22. 12   Department of Energy, 1996, Subsurface Contaminants Focus Area Technology Summary, Office of Science and Technology, DOE/EM-0296, pp. 142-144. 13   D. Lovley and E. J. P. Phillips, 1992, Reduction of uranium by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 58(3):850-856; D. Lovley, E. J. P. Phillips, Y. A. Gorby, and E. R. Landa, 1991, Microbial Reduction of Uranium, Nature 350:413416.

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Building an Effective Environmental Management Science Program: Final Assessment In its Initial Assessment Report the committee suggested that a basic research program could produce knowledge that, if properly applied in technology development efforts, could address the following EM challenges: Characterization, remediation, and management of radioactive and chemical wastes. Basic research may help stimulate the development of new technologies and reduce the uncertainties involved in the application of current technologies. Secondary wastes. Basic research may lead to the development of new methods to reduce the volume and toxicity of the secondary wastes generated during cleanup. Risk. Basic research may provide a better understanding of risk, which would help EM prioritize its cleanup activities and reduce hazards to workers, the public, and the environment. The Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP), as currently designed, is a needs-driven or mission-directed basic research program: needs-driven in the sense that research is focused in areas where new knowledge may stimulate the development of new technologies for cleanup, and basic in the sense that the program supports research on fundamental processes and phenomena with no specific outcome or time horizon for application. The EMSP is designed to feed into a much larger technology development program within EM.14 The EMSP is different in several respects from other federal basic research programs, including other DOE programs, that support fundamental research related to hazardous materials in the environment and environmental management (e.g., Table 3.1). Although several federal programs support basic research in fields broadly relevant to environmental science, none focus explicitly on EM's problems, and none have an explicit link to the problem holders at the sites that the committee recommends be established (see Chapter 5). In addition to its value for generating new knowledge, the EMSP supports EM's mission in two other important ways. First, the program contributes to training future generations of scientists and engineers—an 14   Technology development efforts within EM are managed by the Office of Science and Technology (EM-50), which has an annual budget (excluding the EMSP) of about $316 million per year in FY 1997.

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Building an Effective Environmental Management Science Program: Final Assessment important consideration for any agency or program with a mission that will last several decades. This training will secure future access to knowledge long after the current generation of investigators has passed from the scene. This training also may promote the development of what the committee has referred to in its previous reports as a "committed cadre" of investigators for the program—scientists knowledgeable about EM's problems and needs who produce knowledge of long-term value to the cleanup mission. Second, the EMSP will promote the development of partnerships among universities, national laboratories, other federal agencies, and the private sector. These partnerships bring together highly creative and innovative researchers, provide access to unique national research facilities, and provide a multidisciplinary focus on EM's most difficult problems.15 As the committee stated in its Initial Assessment Report, funding for the EMSP should be viewed as an investment that may, in the long-term, lead to more effective cleanup. This investment in basic science is not unlike the R&D investments made by successful for-profit, private-sector firms, which recognize that R&D is essential to long-term success. The committee reiterates that EMSP is not a "cure-all"—it alone will not solve all of EM's cleanup problems. As with any basic research program, there are no guarantees of quantifiable returns, and, indeed, it may be difficult to track precisely the returns on dollars invested. However, the sheer magnitude of the cleanup mission and its estimated cost, coupled with the technological challenges, make the investment in EMSP both prudent and timely, even urgent. The committee believes that basic research will lead to new knowledge which, given the scope and time frame of the problem, will be of value to cleanup of the weapons complex. There is no way to forecast the impact of carefully chosen high-quality projects, but the EM problems are so large and the predicted costs of cleanup so great, that the modest investment in the EMSP is viewed as worthwhile. In the committee's view, the potential benefits of the program clearly justify its continued support. 15   Collaborations are discussed further in Chapter 3.