1

Introduction

One of the most prescient comments of the nuclear age is Alvin Weinberg 's (1972) now classic observation:

We nuclear people have made a Faustian bargain with society. On the one hand, we offer, in the catalytic nuclear burner, an inexhaustible source of energy. . . . But the price that we demand of society for this magical energy source is both a vigilance and a longevity of our social institutions that we are quite unaccustomed to.

While Weinberg's comment referred to spent nuclear fuel, it is applicable to the products and byproducts of nuclear weapons production as well. These observations take on added importance, however, now that it has become clear that many U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites will require ongoing management for very long periods of time. The department has recently estimated that the great majority of sites currently in its care will not be able to be cleaned up to the point where they can be released for unrestricted use (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999). Factors such as technical infeasibility, excessive worker risk or environmental damage, the explicit choices that are made, and costs dictate the extent to which sites are undergoing remediation. Sites expected to require what the DOE has termed “long-term stewardship ” are found in more than half of the states, in Puerto Rico, and in the Trust Territory of the Pacific. For many locations within the DOE defense complex,1 a group that includes the largest and most contaminated sites in this country, the terms of long-term stewardship have yet to be specified in any detail.

Due to the nature of the hazards involved, the stewardship measures at many sites, once instituted, will have to be maintained for long periods of time. For this reason the primary focus of this report is on the need for long-term institutional management of contaminated sites—the attributes that long-term management must have to be effective and the conditions necessary for its establishment at these contaminated sites. The committee's conception, detailed in Chapter 2, views the selection, implementation, and periodic reassessment of stewardship mea

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The use in this report of the term “DOE defense complex” or “DOE legacy waste sites” refers to those areas making up a contiguous block of land owned or managed by DOE and containing radioactive and hazardous wastes that are the legacy of nuclear weapons production. According to the report by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (1991) entitled Complex Cleanup, work performed within the complex has included: (1) weapons research and development; (2) nuclear materials (plutonium and tritium) production and processing, along with uranium processing; (3) warhead component production; and (4) warhead testing. DOE program wastes also include nuclear energy, isotope production, and nuclear propulsion.



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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites 1 Introduction One of the most prescient comments of the nuclear age is Alvin Weinberg 's (1972) now classic observation: We nuclear people have made a Faustian bargain with society. On the one hand, we offer, in the catalytic nuclear burner, an inexhaustible source of energy. . . . But the price that we demand of society for this magical energy source is both a vigilance and a longevity of our social institutions that we are quite unaccustomed to. While Weinberg's comment referred to spent nuclear fuel, it is applicable to the products and byproducts of nuclear weapons production as well. These observations take on added importance, however, now that it has become clear that many U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites will require ongoing management for very long periods of time. The department has recently estimated that the great majority of sites currently in its care will not be able to be cleaned up to the point where they can be released for unrestricted use (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999). Factors such as technical infeasibility, excessive worker risk or environmental damage, the explicit choices that are made, and costs dictate the extent to which sites are undergoing remediation. Sites expected to require what the DOE has termed “long-term stewardship ” are found in more than half of the states, in Puerto Rico, and in the Trust Territory of the Pacific. For many locations within the DOE defense complex,1 a group that includes the largest and most contaminated sites in this country, the terms of long-term stewardship have yet to be specified in any detail. Due to the nature of the hazards involved, the stewardship measures at many sites, once instituted, will have to be maintained for long periods of time. For this reason the primary focus of this report is on the need for long-term institutional management of contaminated sites—the attributes that long-term management must have to be effective and the conditions necessary for its establishment at these contaminated sites. The committee's conception, detailed in Chapter 2, views the selection, implementation, and periodic reassessment of stewardship mea 1   The use in this report of the term “DOE defense complex” or “DOE legacy waste sites” refers to those areas making up a contiguous block of land owned or managed by DOE and containing radioactive and hazardous wastes that are the legacy of nuclear weapons production. According to the report by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (1991) entitled Complex Cleanup, work performed within the complex has included: (1) weapons research and development; (2) nuclear materials (plutonium and tritium) production and processing, along with uranium processing; (3) warhead component production; and (4) warhead testing. DOE program wastes also include nuclear energy, isotope production, and nuclear propulsion.

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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites sures as important functional components of long-term institutional management. They serve as complements and supplements to the contaminant reduction and isolation activities that must continue to be addressed as part of institutional management for as long as unacceptable hazards persist. LONG-TERM STEWARDSHIP The term “long-term stewardship” is used by DOE to describe the care and attention that contaminated areas will receive after cleanup is “complete”2 (remediation ends). The need for attention to post-remediation site controls is perhaps best appreciated by considering the goals for site completion that DOE has set for cleanups across the complex. According to the report Accelerating Cleanup: Paths to Closure (U.S. Department of Energy, 1998a, pp. 1-7), DOE considers a site to be “complete” (or at its end state) when: Deactivation or decommissioning of all facilities currently in the EM [DOE Office of Environmental Management] program has been completed, excluding any long-term surveillance and monitoring; All releases to the environment have been cleaned up in accordance with agreed-upon cleanup standards; Groundwater contamination has been contained, or long-term treatment or monitoring is in place; Nuclear material and spent fuel have been stabilized and/or placed in safe long-term storage; and “Legacy” waste (i.e., waste produced by past nuclear weapons production activities, with the exception of high-level waste) has been disposed of in an approved manner. Stewardship activities, like those described in the department's recent report, From Cleanup to Stewardship (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999), thus become relevant when potentially harmful contaminants remain after remediation has been “completed. ” The importance of such situations to the nation as a whole is apparent: relatively few DOE sites will, in the foreseeable future, be cleaned up to the point where no post-remediation measures are necessary (i.e., the highly desirable end state condition where no restrictions on future use are needed). The reasons for this are technical, financial, social, and political. DOE estimates that 109 of the 144 sites currently under its care will require some kind of protective stewardship after currently planned remediation activities are complete (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999).3 Some sites requiring long-term stewardship are located in close proximity to human populations (e.g., the Mound Plant in Ohio), while others, once fairly isolated, are now being encroached upon by local population growth (e.g., the Rocky Flats Site near Denver, Colorado). Figure 1 shows the locations of the 109 DOE sites mentioned above that will require stewardship, and Appendix B gives a brief summary of closure plans for the major DOE legacy sites as described in various reports by the U.S. Department of Energy (1995a, 1996, 1998a, 1999). It is difficult to determine from available documentation where stewardship needs are most pressing because the final end states (or conditions) of the sites are not reliably known and the activities that will constitute stewardship have yet to be defined. The report, Linking Legacies (U.S. Department of Energy, 1997b), gives some clues. Of the total amount of legacy waste radioactivity (over 1 billion curies), the largest amounts (about 86 percent of the total) are found as high-level waste at DOE sites that performed chemical separations—Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Hanford Site in Washington, and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. In terms of waste volume (about 36 million cubic meters), about 89 percent is byproduct material (mill 2   In its December 14, 1998, settlement of a lawsuit (Natural Resources Defense Council, et al. v. Richardson, et al., Civ. No. 97-963 [SS]) the department defined long-term stewardship as: “the physical controls, institutions, information and other mechanisms needed to ensure protection of people and the environment at sites where DOE has completed or plans to complete ‘cleanup' (e.g., landfill closures, remedial actions, removal actions, and facility stabilization). This concept … includes, inter alia, land use controls, monitoring, maintenance, and information management. ” (Federal Register, October 6, 1999, vol. 64, no. 193, p. 54280). 3   The term “site,” though often used in this report in reference to whole sites, is used by DOE to refer more generally to “geographically distinct locations [within whole sites] as well as specific disposal cells, contained contamination areas, and entombed contaminated facilities” (Congressional Record, August 5, 1999, p. H7855). The figure quoted thus refers to the fact that portions of 109 sites in the weapons complex will require protective stewardship despite whole-site cleanup being regarded as “complete.”

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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites FIGURE 1 Map of DOE nuclear weapons complex sites (from U.S. Department of Energy, 1999). tailings or waste produced by the extraction of uranium or thorium from source ores) stored at burial sites located primarily in the western U.S.; this waste contains less than 1 percent of the total radioactivity. TRANSITION “FROM CLEANUP TO STEWARDSHIP” The department's Baseline Environmental Management Reports (U.S. Department of Energy, 1995a, 1996) and Accelerating Cleanup: Paths to Closure report (U.S. Department of Energy, 1998a) were intended primarily to aid in the scheduling and budgeting of the cleanup. But they also called attention to the need for protective measures long after planned remediation activities were completed. Various reasons for reliance on long-term protective measures were presented to the committee in site-by-site assessments, but principal themes were the technical infeasibility of remediation (e.g., long-term pump-and-treat efforts at most sites; see Appendix B) or the collateral environmental damage that would be entailed if contaminants were to be physically removed (e.g., attempts to remove radiocesium, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls from sediments in the Clinch River, Tennessee, might result in new exposures to the public and the environment). In other cases, consideration of residual risks and the costs of removal dictated that wastes could be safely left in place if isolation caps or other protective barriers were properly constructed and maintained (e.g., this was the decision reached concerning uranium mill tailings left at many former mining and milling operations in the western U.S.). In its report, From Cleanup to Stewardship (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999), the DOE made its first effort to detail how individual sites in the complex will reach a condition in which long-term stewardship is the main activity. This document outlines a long-term stewardship study that DOE agreed to prepare by the end of the year 2000 when it settled a long-standing lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council. As described in a recent Federal Register notice (see footnote 2), this study will lay out complex-wide long-term stewardship issues and challenges, define policy options, and detail the department 's long-term responsibilities. A recent

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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites SIDEBAR 1-1 DEVELOPMENT OF DOE LONG-TERM STEWARDSHIP REPORT On January 24, 2000, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) Headquarters issued a guidance document to its operations and field offices for their preparation and submission of information concerning ongoing and long-term stewardship activities at DOE sites. This information is to be combined into a National Defense Authorization Act Long-Term Stewardship Report requested by the Congress. It was requested for two reasons: The report responds directly to a congressional mandate pursuant to the 1998 agreement for the lawsuit settlement of National Resources Defense Council et al., versus Richardson et al., Civ. No. 97-963 (SS) (D.D.C. December 12, 1998). Of concern to Congress is that DOE/EM needs to demonstrate what has been accomplished with the nearly $60 billion provided to its program during the last 10 years. Congressional staff and state and local governments have expressed interest in long-term stewardship planning, responsibility, and activities. In developing these information submittal protocols, the guidance document strongly recommends that each field office involve the public. The resulting report is for planning purposes only and in no way indicates any preferences or preempts any ongoing or future regulatory process. Assumptions are to be documented and estimates are to be based on the best available understanding of a given site. The information is to include site descriptions, missions, and cleanup goals; details on the contaminated portions of each site (characterization of the contaminants and the surrounding environment); long-term stewardship goals and activities; estimated long-term stewardship costs; and future land uses. REFERENCES U.S. Department of Energy. 2000a (January 24). Guidance for the Development of the FY 2000 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Long-Term Stewardship Report. Office of Environmental Management, Washington, D.C. document from the U.S. Department of Energy (2000a) outlines data for such a report requested by DOE Headquarters from its operations and field offices (see Sidebar 1-1). The fiscal year 2000 National Defense Authorization Act directs DOE to prepare, on a site-specific basis, a report on existing and anticipated long-term stewardship responsibilities, including cost estimates where available. Congress intends that such a study address those individual sites (or portions thereof) for which cleanup will be completed by the end of the year 2006 (Congressional Record, August 5, 1999, p. H7855). Due in October 2000, that study may make apparent for the first time the full scope of the department's long-term stewardship obligations. During the course of the committee's study, DOE established a Long-Term Stewardship Information Center that provides information on the long-term care of DOE sites to the interested public. These recent trends should be viewed in the broader context of the DOE cleanup program. Planning for the cleanup of the numerous sites and facilities that comprise the nation's nuclear weapons complex got underway during the 1980s, following a series of court cases that clarified the responsibilities of DOE and the oversight roles of other agencies and host-state governments (U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, 1991). Management oversight for the cleanup was centralized with the creation of the DOE Office of Environmental Management

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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites (EM) in 1989. In the ten years following, cleanup planning has, in the view of some observers, progressed through two distinct stages (Bjornstad, Jones, and Dümmer, 1997). In the first stage, the main priority was achieving the greatest possible degree of cleanup, with planning largely driven by the aspirations of managers and operators of the individual sites. The second and current stage commenced in 1996 with the release of what DOE/EM then referred to as the “2006 Plan” (Alm, 1997). Under this plan and subsequent revisions, budgetary pressures from DOE headquarters have gained in influence. With the U.S. Congress and administration both concerned about the growing future costs implied by the DOE Baseline Environmental Management Reports (U.S. Department of Energy, 1995a, 1996),4 cost-savings objectives have become increasingly important. In addition, host communities whose economic well-being was strongly tied to the DOE Cold War-era defense mission have argued that DOE should provide transition assistance, especially as the economic prospects associated with the cleanup also began to dim (Russell, 1997). Alongside these budgetary constraints, it has been recognized that at least some contamination problems within the complex simply cannot be cleaned up with currently available technology (U.S. Department of Energy, 1996, Table 3.1). All these changes in thinking have led DOE to plan to close many sites with large inventories of contamination left in place (U.S. Department of Energy, 1998a, 1999), and with remediation approaches that may not be durable over the long time period that the contaminant problems will persist. Appendix B of this report summarizes the current planning efforts. The DOE/EM current cleanup budget of about $6 billion per year has not grown appreciably in several years. DOE's own analysis suggests that the total cost of cleanup is sensitive to the cleanup goals selected for contaminated sites, a point that is illustrated in the 1996 Baseline Environmental Management Report. By far the biggest cost increment between scenarios occurs when a “modified greenfields” scenario (in which the most contaminated areas within the five largest sites are left in a condition requiring highly restricted access) is replaced by what is termed a “maximum feasible greenfields ” scenario.5 DOE's current emphasis is on completing cleanups and closing sites where this can be done relatively soon. The recent DOE/EM reorganization plan creates a new entity, the Office of Long-Term Stewardship, a subdivision of the Office of Science and Technology, to which long-term stewardship is assigned. Its function is to develop policy and research for DOE's stewardship activities, carried out operationally by the DOE Grand Junction Office in Colorado. The reorganization plan seems to signal that the DOE/EM emphasis is shifting toward project completion and site closure. With the cleanup of the largest sites in the complex to the completion condition described in Accelerating Cleanup: Paths to Closure (U.S. Department of Energy, 1998a) currently projected to take as long as 70 years, long-term institutional management measures will be needed at many sites even while remediation continues. For the larger, more complex DOE sites, the costs associated with long-term stewardship have yet to be estimated in any detail. Departmental officials who briefed the committee expressed the view that the annual operational and maintenance costs associated with site stewardship would likely be relatively low in comparison with the current costs of site operations or site cleanup (J.Werner, DOE/EM, personal communication, 1999). However, no reliable cost projections are currently available for the expenditure that many years of stewardship will require. Formal procedures for the transfer of sites from environmental remediation to long-term stewardship have yet to be established. 4   The base-case life-cycle cost estimate from 1997 through 2070 ranges from approximately $168 to $212 billion (U.S. Department of Energy, 2000b), comparable to the estimated cost for a 75-year period found in the earlier DOE Baseline Environmental Management Reports. 5   The DOE approach to cost estimation has been repeatedly criticized (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997a, 1998, 1999). GAO found that cost estimates used in the Baseline Environmental Management Reports appear neither to allow for possible future efficiency gains in cleanup technology nor to include costs associated with stewardship for those wastes left in place. Thus, the relative differences between scenario costs may be less than estimated by DOE. These estimates, nevertheless, underscore the sensitivity of total life-cycle costs to the remediation end point selected, as well as changes in planning for types and approaches to remediation.

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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites PURPOSE OF THE STUDY Official recognition by DOE of the challenges it faces in post-remediation site management is relatively recent. This study by the National Research Council results from one of several recent initiatives directed toward a long-term view of sites in the weapons complex. Some recent studies focused on stewardship are summarized in Appendix D. The evolution of the DOE remediation programs over time, and the ways that fiscal, technical, and other factors have influenced that evolution, are outlined briefly in the remainder of this chapter. Then a series of questions that were developed by the committee to help frame the committee's conceptual approach is presented. This approach—in essence, the need for reliable, integrated, carefully planned, and iterative long-term institutional management of residually contaminated sites—is laid out briefly here, and in more detail in Chapter 2. Subsequent chapters develop the measures and factors of this conceptual framework as they apply to the management of DOE waste sites. The committee's basic premise is that both capabilities and limitations of DOE to reduce and isolate contaminants as well as to implement and maintain stewardship measures, will need to be taken actively into account in long-term institutional management of waste sites. The purpose of this study is to identify and examine the long-term challenges that DOE faces in making decisions about waste sites under its control and to suggest an approach to the department's planning and decision making in this arena. The focus of the study was at the individual site level, and did not address such inter-site issues as waste shipments. During this study the committee visited the following sites: Hanford Site, Richland, Washington; Nevada Test Site, Mercury, Nevada; Grand Junction Office Site, Grand Junction, Colorado; several Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) sites in Colorado; Mound Plant, Miamisburg, Ohio; Fernald, Cincinnati, Ohio; Oak Ridge Reservation, Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Savannah River Site, Aiken, South Carolina (see summary of meetings and visits in Appendix C). During meetings at these sites the committee received and benefited from presentations from, for example, representatives of the DOE Environmental Management Offices of Waste Management, Environmental Remediation, and Long-Term Stewardship, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state regulatory agencies, and from the Environmental Law Institute and Resources for the Future. In addition, during most of its site visits the committee heard comments from local citizens. Among questions the committee believes that DOE will have to address as site managers begin to develop long-term post-remediation plans are: How will the DOE long-term institutional management planning be integrated with current and planned cleanup actions and, where applicable, with ongoing operations? To what extent will stewardship measures be relied upon in lieu of site remediation? How will the reliability and effectiveness of stewardship, as well as other institutional capabilities, be improved? What efforts are to be undertaken to identify and resolve remaining uncertainties regarding the amounts, locations, mobility, and retrievability of contaminants left behind after cleanup is declared to be complete? What future findings from long-term monitoring and surveillance programs that are part of stewardship activities will serve to trigger reconsideration of the balance between additional remediation and stewardship? What institutions or organizations will carry out stewardship activities, and what incentives will be established to assure that the activities will be carried out? What investments should be made in physical and social science and technology research and development so that potentially dangerous contaminants left in place today can be removed or rendered less harmful or more reliably isolated in the future? What investments should be made in research and development to improve the likelihood that long-term institutional management measures will remain efficacious over the long term? How can adequate and reliable funding be assured for all of the activities that are necessary parts of an effective long-term institutional management program?

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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites At a more general level, the questions to be faced also include: What approaches will be taken by the long-term management organizations that emerge—what goals will they have and what goal-setting approaches will they use? What ability will these organizations have to operate in a systems-oriented, comprehensive, and integrated way? What will be the ultimate character of the institutions and organizations charged with the care of contaminated sites (e.g., funding mechanisms, accountability, ability to detect and correct errors)? These and related questions that emerge from this study are developed and explored in subsequent chapters. Though none is easily answered, many are now beginning to receive attention within DOE. Nevertheless, confronting the “Faustian bargain” referred to by Alvin Weinberg will require both a high level of commitment today and a level of vigilance into the distant future that is unusual, if not unprecedented. This vigilance should not be expected to materialize spontaneously. Thus far, policy debates have not adequately considered the magnitude of the challenges that need to be faced. LONG-TERM INSTITUTIONAL MANAGEMENT In this report the committee will describe and discuss the term long-term institutional management, referring to the measures over long periods of time used to ensure that public and worker health and safety and the environment are protected when potentially hazardous contaminants are left on sites. The degree and scope of protection needed will depend on the nature of the residual contaminants and the possibilities for exposure to them, both now and in the future. Thus, the measures will also depend on how the sites are used, now and in the future. The time frames over which institutional management measures must be effective are set by the lengths of time over which residual contaminants can be expected to pose unacceptable risks. This last aspect of long-term institutional management is notable because some radionuclides and other contaminants that will be left at sites can be expected to remain as risks to the public and the environment for thousands of years (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999). However, among the current most hazardous radioactive materials with respect to risk that are found in the DOE defense complex are the fission products found in high-level waste (such as cesium-137 and strontium-90). These radionuclides, currently stored in tanks, drams, capsules, trapped within processing facilities, or contaminating the soil and groundwater where they have been released or leaked, must be very carefully managed for at least the next 300 years, a period extending beyond the projected closure date for most sites by DOE. In addition to these relatively short-lived isotopes, there are quantities of very long-lived isotopes such as the transuranic elements that may require vigilant care much farther into the future.6 The committee's conceptual framework for examining the requirements for successful long-term institutional management, first discussed in its interim report (National Research Council, 1998d), is presented in Chapter 2, followed by discussion of the basic measures of such a form of management: contaminant reduction (Chapter 3), contaminant isolation (Chapter 4), and stewardship activities (Chapter 5). 6   Fission product radionuclides now consist mainly of cesium-137 and strontium-90 with half-lives of about 30 years. Thus, natural attenuation (decay) will reduce contamination by a factor of about 1,000 in 300 years. Transuranic and other long-lived radionuclides and many other hazardous chemicals, on the other hand, can be expected to remain for thousands of years—essentially forever in the case of most stable heavy-metal contaminants.

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Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites There are, in addition, numerous contextual factors or elements that affect long-term site disposition, as is discussed in Chapter 6. In Chapter 7 we discuss the fact that technical and institutional systems have limited capabilities, and these capabilities and limitations will directly affect management decisions and activities. These considerations taken together frame the problem of how best to approach the design and implementation of durable and effective institutional management systems. Chapter 8 provides some design principles for institutional management and the committee's findings and recommendations. Throughout this report the committee has presented long-term institutional management characteristics and principles. These are introduced in Table 1 to assist the reader, with indication of where the terms are defined and discussed. TABLE 1 Institutional Management Characteristics, Criteria, and Principles Found in This Report Characteristics of an Effective Stewardship Program (from Chapter 5) Layering and redundancy. Ease of implementation. Monitoring commensurate with risks. Oversight and enforcement commensurate with risks. Appropriate incentive structures. Adequate funding. Durability or replaceability. Characteristics of Institutional Design (Design Criteria) (from Chapter 8) Defense in depth. Complementarity and consistency. Foresight. Feasibility. Accountability. Transparency. Stability through time. Iteration. Follow-through and flexibility. Five Key Principles for Developing an Institutional Management System (from Chapter 8) Plan for uncertainty. Plan for fallibility. Develop substantive incentive structures. Undertake scientific, technical, and social research and development. Seek to maximize follow-through on phased, iterative, and adaptive long-term approaches. Characteristics of Implementation Criteria (from Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7) Clear objectives and a desire on the part of those responsible for institutional management to carry out those objectives with diligence over time. A clear system of governance that specifies what is to be done and by whom and is founded on precepts that are enduring on the one hand and flexible on the other. An integrated overall approach that coordinates activities across the responsible entities and assures that site management measures are complementary rather than conflicting. Incentives both within and outside the institutional management organization to encourage diligence in carrying out mission objectives.