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BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SCIENCE PROGRAM:: INITIAL ASSESSMENT tremendous size and scope. However, cleanup would benefit greatly from the involvement of basic researchers, as noted in a recent NRC report (NRC, 1996, pp. 6-7): 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 VALUE OF RESEARCH TO THE CLEANUP MISSION The DOE-EM cleanup mission has been called the world's largest civil works project (e.g., Blush and Heitman, 1995; Zorpette, 1996) and is in many ways more demanding scientifically and technically than the effort to develop nuclear weapons, which began with the Manhattan Project. As noted in the previous section, the nation lacks the scientific and technical know-how to address many of the most pressing cleanup problems and is confronted with the prospect of spending large sums of taxpayer funds simply to prevent the further spread of contamination. A research program could add significant value to EM's cleanup mission by producing new knowledge that will stimulate the development of technologies and methods to improve the effectiveness and lower the costs and risks of cleanup. As noted in the introduction of this report, Congress directed DOE to develop a science program that would utilize the “existing basic research infrastructure within the Department and the Office of Energy Research” and would take “advantage of [federal] laboratory and university expertise. ” EM already supports activities that could be classified as research or research and development (R&D) through its Office of Science and Technology (EM-50). The conference report language suggests that this new research program should support a kind of research that is distinctly different from that currently supported by EM-50. The program notice (Appendix B) states that the objective of the program is to “‘[b]ridge the gap' between broad fundamental research that
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BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SCIENCE PROGRAM:: INITIAL ASSESSMENT has wide-ranging applicability . . . and needs-driven applied technology development. . . .” This program would probably be recognized by most scientists as a mission-directed, basic research program. The program is “mission-directed” in that research will be supported only in certain high-priority areas dictated by DOE's cleanup challenges. The program is “basic” in that it is focused on the investigation of fundamental physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes and phenomena, with no specific technology in mind and no established time horizon for payoff.5 The committee believes that a properly structured and managed mission-directed, basic research program can produce knowledge that would add significant value to EM's technology development efforts. Such knowledge, if properly applied, could help address the following technical 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 by 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 committee can imagine several specific cleanup problems that could be addressed through a focused program of basic research. Basic research in chemistry, for example, could stimulate the development of new instruments and analytical methods to help characterize the 55 million gallons of hazardous and radioactive wastes that exist in the tanks at the Hanford site. Similarly, basic research in geoscience and engineering science on flow and transport phenomena could lead to a better understanding of sub-surface flow processes, which in turn could improve the effectiveness of 5 Terms such as basic research are used frequently but seldom understood precisely. Good definitions of this and related terms are provided in Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology (NRC, 1995, p. 6), where basic research is characterized as research that “creates new knowledge; is generic, non-appropriable, and openly available; is often done with no specific application in mind; requires a long-term commitment.”
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BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SCIENCE PROGRAM:: INITIAL ASSESSMENT efforts to stabilize and remediate contaminated ground water. Basic research in the biological sciences could stimulate the development of new or improved biological agents to break down chemical waste or sequester radioactive waste, thereby improving the effectiveness of waste treatment and reducing the volume of secondary wastes generated during cleanup. The committee believes that the Department of Energy and the nation should view funding for the EMSP as a long-term investment that will provide payoffs over the life of the cleanup mission in terms of both lower risks (to workers, the public, and the environment) and costs and of improved effectiveness. This investment 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 survival and prosperity. The committee notes that DOE's first-year investment in the EMSP is modest compared to many private-sector R&D efforts —the department's investment represents about 0.8 percent of EM's annual budget, and the total EM investment in R&D represents about 6.6 percent of its budget.6 By comparison, “high-technology” manufacturing firms (e.g., computing, electronic, communication, instrumentation, and pharmaceutical firms) spend between about 7 and 12 percent of net sales on R&D.7 The committee emphasizes that DOE's investment in the EMSP will not solve all of its cleanup problems and needs to be viewed as “risky” in financial terms, in that there is no absolute guarantee of any quantifiable return and, moreover, it may be difficult to track precisely the returns on dollars invested. However, in the context of a long-term mission of EM, where many of the most serious remediation problems are technically challenging —and exorbitantly expensive to solve with current knowledge and technologies —the investment in basic research is viewed by the committee as both prudent and urgent. The risks inherent in supporting basic research in the EMSP are small in comparison to the potential payoffs. 6 The total EM budget in FY 1996 was $6.1 billion. Of this total, $349.9 million was allocated to EM-50 to support technology development, and $50 million was allocated for the EMSP. 7 Data on the R&D expenditures of manufacturing firms are for the year 1993 and are taken from Science and Engineering Indicators—1996 (National Science Board, 1996). Data for R&D spending by the federal government and the private sector are not directly comparable because they are computed on different bases; nevertheless, they do allow for a rough comparison of relative efforts.
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