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Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise (2012)

Chapter: 7 Environmental Management

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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
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7

Environmental Management

 

INTRODUCTION

The environmental management (EM) component of the nuclear and radiochemistry workforce is that sector of the discipline dedicated to remediation and monitoring of the environmental legacy brought about primarily from many decades of nuclear weapons development and nuclear energy research. Specifically, EM nuclear and radiochemists are involved in all aspects of radioactive waste management, which includes civilian waste from the nuclear power industry and medical industry and non-civilian waste from the nuclear weapons programs and depleted uranium military programs. The role of the EM nuclear and radiochemist also includes routine regulatory monitoring of fabrication, processing, and disposal sites and fate and transport studies of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) legacy sites—former World War II and cold war weapons production facilities—which include radioactive and chemical waste, environmental contamination, and hazardous material at over 100 sites across the country.

As shown in Figure 7.1, the DOE oversees cleanup of 23 DOE Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) sites in 14 states and 87 DOE Office of Legacy Management (DOE-LM) sites in 29 states (NCSL 2011).1 For example, the DOE Hanford Site in southeastern Washington State contains 53 million gallons of chemical and radioactive waste resulting from more than 3 decades of plutonium production, which the DOE Office of River Protection is retrieving and treating to protect the nearby Columbia River (DOE 2010). If the United States pursues reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel as part of its long-term energy policy, then EM-trained nuclear and radiochemists would be involved in all fuel-cycle aspects of the nuclear power industry. This same workforce would also be among those asked to respond

_______________

1 DOE-EM is responsible for completing cleanup of legacy sites, while DOE-LM must manage remaining legacy responsibilities and commitments to former contractor workforce.

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

image

FIGURE 7-1 Nuclear Waste Cleanup Sites managed by U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) and Office of Legacy Management (DOE-LM).

SOURCE: NCSL 2011.

to site characterization and recovery in the event of a nuclear incident (both in the United States and abroad).

In many ways, the EM nuclear and radiochemistry field is broader than the other areas addressed by this committee, since it includes a very large range of radioisotopes and the chemical interactions of these isotopes in the environment. There is also a synergy between this field and others such as nuclear power, security, and medicine, since EM involves the disposal and monitoring of radiological material after its use in all other fields. There is also a natural connection between the nuclear and radiochemistry-trained personnel involved in nuclear forensics and those involved in EM. It is important to note that even if the United States decided to go completely nuclear free in the future, the EM workforce needs in terms of radiological monitoring and assessment would remain indefinitely. For example, the 2011-2020 strategic plan of the U.S Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management (DOE 2011, p. 5) states:

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

Given the long-lived nature of radionuclides, long-term surveillance, monitoring, and maintenance at some [legacy] sites will be required for hundreds or even thousands of years. As time goes on, we will take any corrective actions necessary to modify engineered cells, treat contaminated groundwater, and sustain institutional controls. Further, concerns about site protectiveness and integrity and future technological development or future land-use changes may lead to changes in the selected remedies. By 2020, some in place remedy components and controls may need to be replaced or repaired.

There is not only an obligation for the United States to seek solutions to the legacy nuclear waste sites, there is the potential liability costs—which are enormous—of the environmental impacts from long-lived radioisotopes associated with prior activities. In addition to health physics and radiological-protection research in this area, knowledge of the fate and transport of these radioisotopes in the environment, and the underlying chemistry of these processes, are critical needs for defraying future costs of such cleanup and for accurately assessing optimal remediation strategies.

RESEARCH AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

There are a few advantages of EM in attracting scientists into the nuclear and radiochemistry workforce. First, protection and cleanup of the environment and green chemistry in general appeals to many students. Second, the EM legacy sites are complex and are challenged by interdisciplinary problems (between biological, chemical, geological, and physical processes) that naturally attract the intellectual interest and curiosity of students entering the workforce. The complexity of the EM legacy problems can often be compared to forensic analyses, which is a field that also attracts significant student interest. In this way, EM can act as a unique complement to other nuclear and radiochemistry fields in terms of career options. Third, unlike national security, there are no citizenship restrictions on personnel in the EM field. It is possible that the complementary nature of EM work to nuclear forensics work could be used to train or employ nuclear and radiochemists for most of their day-to-day career responsibilities, making them available during times of national need as part of a large trained response workforce.

Just as there are many radioisotopes of interest in EM, there are a wide variety of open research questions within the field with opportunities for both future funding and for student research projects. Because the EM field is so interdisciplinary, there are also cross-disciplinary implications of the work performed with the potential for broad impacts in other research areas. As an example of the broader impact of this type of research, there is the clear

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

connection between legacy cleanup of previous nuclear activities and the long-term storage of nuclear waste. Since nuclear power has been and will continue to be an important part of the energy equation for the needs of the United States for the foreseeable future, there are critical questions about waste disposal that can be addressed only by further research on the past interaction of nuclear materials with the environment. Just as the research on the Oklo-Okélobondo natural reactors—natural fission reactors in Gabon, west central Africa—have led to critical design parameters for a national underground waste storage facility, current research into rapid and inexpensive radioisotope separations could transform the issue of which radioisotopes can be separated for disposal (de Laeter et al. 1980; Gauthier-Lafaye 2002).

This type of nuclear and radiochemical research will also potentially transform the nuclear fuel reprocessing cycle and, if the harvesting of useful isotopes (such as 99mTc) from spent fuel is ever permitted, more research into the nuclear and radiochemical methods of separation will be needed in order for practical extraction to routinely occur. The cost savings for developing this type of radiological separation technology are likely to be enormous and there are potential impacts on other fields—especially nuclear medicine—if separated radioisotopes of interest were available as a result of the developed methods.

Another example of the cross-disciplinary impact of research in EM is the recent re-estimation of the neutron dose-response curve of the Hiroshima bomb. This was accomplished using accelerator mass spectrometry measurements of 63Ni and was conducted as part of a basic nuclear and radiochemistry research initiative (Straume et al. 2005). The impact of this EM research was a global re-estimation of the radiation risk assessment and a much higher confidence in the potential health impacts of fast neutron exposure. In this way, fundamental research in EM impacted the health physics and radiological protection fields.

There is also the recognized need for the capacity to analyze and interpret a large-scale radiological event correctly. Although this is unlikely to occur frequently, the workforce and equipment needs to analyze even a single event are likely to be large, for example, based on recent experiences at Fukushima. Even though the earthquake and tsunami occurred in northern Japan, the resulting radiological assessment has involved over 200 people just from DOE offices and laboratories, various universities, and individual consultants since the event occurred (Kelly 2011). If such an event were to occur in the United States, the ability of the nation to respond quickly and appropriately could be severely limited without a significant nuclear and radiochemical workforce that is well trained in the analytical detection and characterization of radioisotopes in the environment. While these measure-

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

TABLE 7-1 U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Research Funding, Office of Technology Innovation and Development (EM-30) for the Past 6 Years

FY Environmental
Management
Programs
Total $ for
Research
% Invested at
Universities
# of Ph.D.s
Supported in
Pipeline
# of MAs
Supported in
Pipeline
# of BSs
Supported in
Pipeline
2005 OTID, FIU 65.9M 11.7%
2006 OTID, FIU 29.05M 0% (carryover) 5 11 4
2007 OTID, FIU 23.72M 12.6% 1 15 10
2008 OTID, FIU 23.56M 12.6% 6 19 10
2009 OTID, FIU 35.4M 11.6% 6 21 10
2010 OTID, FIU CRESP 27.5M 40.2% 20 47 31

ABBREVIATIONS: CRESP, Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation; FIU, Florida International University; and OTID, Office of Technology and Innovation Development.
SOURCE: OTID (Office of Technology and Innovation Development; EM-30) input for the tables in this document was received from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Savannah River National Laboratory, FIU, and Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) in FY 2010 (Mary Neu, DOE, personal communication, July 2011).

ments and subsequent data analysis will undoubtedly be the responsibility of national laboratories, a critical workforce shortage in nuclear and radiochemistry and the expected load on the sub-contracted private radioanalytical laboratories will negatively impact the nation’s ability to respond to such a situation effectively.

One critical issue in the area of EM, however, is the need for consistent funding of research and development (R&D). The R&D funding for DOE-EM Office of Technology Innovation and Development (OTID) has been inconsistent over the past decade, as indicated below in Table 7-1. Perhaps because it might be deemed less urgent than nuclear security or energy, DOE research and development funding for EM has been periodically cut in a drastic manner. This inconsistency could have detrimental consequences for graduate level research and education, since it is difficult to support a graduate research program when funding is discontinued for a year or more (for example, as it was in 2006). It is both difficult to retain students in the pipeline at a graduate level and hard to attract university personnel into the field without the promise of grant funding opportunities.

WORKFORCE CONSIDERATIONS

As described in the following sections, EM scientists will continue to be employed in four main areas—as federal employees in U.S. Department of Energy facilities and national laboratories, in private radioanalytical laboratories, state regulatory offices, and academic institutions. Much of the radiological monitoring work involves B.S.-level employees with nuclear

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

and radiochemistry training in EM, but there is also a need for Ph.D.-level scientists to retain and expand the knowledge base in the discipline and to educate future generations of scientists that could enter this field. It is projected that a significant number of new nuclear and radiochemists will be needed to fulfill these workforce needs, as detailed below. In some cases scientists from other disciplines are cross-trained to perform radiochemical separations and analytical measurements. Foreign-trained scientists are also hired to help fulfill EM needs.

Department of Energy

In the area of EM, DOE relies on scientists and staff members in national laboratories and other contractor organizations to manage the legacy waste problems created by DOE activities, involving the production of defense nuclear materials and other operations at the DOE sites. The remediation and cleanup of these areas require individuals with expertise in nuclear and radiochemistry, along with knowledge in the geosciences, biological sciences, materials sciences, and various areas of engineering.

Current workforce data for the DOE national laboratories is summarized in Chapter 2 (Figure 2-5). DOE-EM provided numbers for the current level of support for nuclear and radiochemists engaged in its specific mission (see Table 7-2), but does not include the larger BS-level contractor-based cleanup site personnel.

For the national laboratories, most of their effort in EM is focused on research and development that supports cleanup and legacy management activities. Consequently, the national laboratory workforce is composed of primarily Ph.D. scientists in nuclear and radiochemistry, with additional workers at the M.S. and B.S. levels. These national laboratory staff members include both scientists and engineers. Because of the multi-purpose nature of the DOE national laboratories, staff members are often supporting multiple DOE missions. For example, it is likely that an individual nuclear or

TABLE 7-2 U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Nuclear and Radiochemical Workforce Estimates for 2011 (does not include clean-up site contractors)

National Laboratories Non-national Laboratories
Ph.D. M.S. B.S. Ph.D. M.S. B.S.
135 54 23 4 6 3

SOURCE: Mary Neu, DOE, personal communication, July 2011.

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

TABLE 7-3 Estimation of Future Nuclear and Radiochemistry Workforce Needs (new hires) for the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Over the Next 5 Years (does not include clean-up site contractors)

National Laboratories Non-national Laboratories
Ph.D. M.S. B.S. Ph.D. M.S. B.S.
118 49 19 6 11 4

SOURCE: Mary Neu, Department of Energy, DOE, personal communication, July 2011.

radiochemistry staff member supports EM in addition to other areas such as nuclear energy or nuclear security.

A unique aspect of the DOE-EM mission compared to other areas of DOE, such as national security, is that work is not just carried out by contractor organizations at national laboratories. For example, Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Savannah River Site are large remediation sites affiliated with but not run by national laboratories; other sites such as Portsmouth and Paducah have large cleanup operations and no associated national laboratories (DOE 2010).

An estimation of future U.S. workforce needs has also been provided by DOE EM in Table 7-3, indicating continued need for expertise in this area.

State Regulatory Agencies and Laboratories

In the area of EM, every state in the United States has at least one state-level agency responsible for radiation control within the state that interface with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as listed in the Directory of Agreement State and Non-Agreement State Directors and State Liaison Officers (USNRC 2011). For example, Massachusetts lists two organizations: the Department of Public Health and the Emergency Management Agency. These agencies vary in size depending on the extent of federal, state, or private enterprises within the state that use radioactive materials. Even states with no active programs or businesses that involve or utilize radioactive materials have state agency personnel that monitor compliance issues associated with naturally-occurring radioactive materials such as radon.

For states with extensive EM needs in the nuclear and radiochemistry, the workforce includes both non-laboratory personnel involved in the policy and assessment of regulatory compliance, and laboratory personnel who are typically radioanalytical chemists completing analyses on environmental samples. In some instances, states hire laboratory personnel to work in state-funded laboratories. In other cases, the radioanalytical work is contracted

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

out to third-parties such as private or academic radioanalytical laboratories. For states with extensive activities, the range of educational levels extends from Ph.D. to B.S., and there may be several employees with nuclear and radiochemistry expertise who work on EM issues. Given the more than 50 state agencies and laboratories in the United States that are concerned with radiological protection and monitoring, there are likely many workers employed with nuclear or radiochemistry skills in this area beyond the 80 state agency representatives mentioned above; however, the committee was not able to determine the number and degree level of those workers and thus did not include this information in its nuclear and radiochemistry workforce estimates. However, an estimate of workforce needs for regulatory agencies with authority over nuclear power plants and U.S. NRC employees is included as part of the demand for nuclear and radiochemistry expertise in nuclear energy and power generation sector discussed in Chapter 5.

Commercial Radiochemistry and Radioanalytical Laboratories

Demonstration of compliance with environmental regulations is required for all entities working with radioactive materials. This includes state-level agencies, DOE EM-funded programs, DOE and the Department of Defense nuclear security programs, the civilian nuclear power enterprise, as well as medical facilities and research laboratories. This demonstration of compliance relies in part upon the collection of environmental samples and the analysis of those samples using radioanalytical chemistry. Private commercial laboratories provide the analysis of such samples as a paid service. The size of the workforce in this sector must be quite large, but it was difficult for the committee to accurately estimate the demand.

Since most of the work conducted by commercial radioanalytical laboratories involves following strictly defined protocols, most of this workforce is composed of B.S.- or M.S.-level chemists working as technicians.

The continued need to comply with regulatory requirements will drive the need for sampling and chemical analysis, making it is reasonable to expect that the workload for commercial radiochemistry and radioanalytical laboratories will continue, if not, increase in the future. Since commercial laboratories tend to rely on general physical and biological scientists at the B.S. level, additional on-the-job training is provided specifically in radiochemistry and radioanalytical chemistry. There will also be some need at the M.A. and Ph.D. levels to provide continued on-the-job training for the private sector.

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

FINDING

There is a critical need for nuclear and radiochemistry expertise for EM. There will be a continuing need in EM for the foreseeable future due to DOE responsibilities for cleanup and management of its legacy sites, as well as for state regulatory and public health needs. Much of the radiological monitoring work involves B.S.- and M.S.-level employees with nuclear and radiochemistry training in EM, but Ph.D.-level scientists are needed for higher level state and regulatory functions, to retain and expand the knowledge base in the discipline, and to educate future generations of scientists that could enter this field. In the absence of accurate estimates for all EM sectors, the committee conservatively estimates the current and projected EM workforce (in combination with national security needs) to be at a minimum those provided for the national laboratories, shown in Figure 2-5 and Table 2-4.

REFERENCES

de Laeter, J. R., K. J. R. Rosman, and C. L. Smith. 1980. The Oklo natural reactor: Cumulative fission yields and retentivity of the symmetric mass region fission products. Earth Planet, Sc. Lett. 50(1):238-246.

DOE (U.S. Department of Energy). 2010. Sites/Locations. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) [online]. Available: http://www.em.doe.gov/Pages/SitesLocations.aspx [accessed December 7, 2011].

DOE. 2011. 2011-2020 Strategic Plan. DOE/LM-0512. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Legacy Management, January 2011[online]. Available: http://www.lm.doe.gov/ [accessed March 9, 2012].

Gauthier-Lafaye, F. 2002. 2 billion year old natural analogs for nuclear waste disposal: The natural nuclear fission reactors in Gabon (Africa). Cr. Acad. Sci. II B 3(7):839-849.

Kelly, J. E. 2011. DOE (U.S Department of Energy) Response to Fukushima Dai-ichi Accident. Presentation at DOE Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee Meeting, June 15, 2011, Washington, DC [online] Available: http://www.ne.doe.gov/neac/Meetings/June152011/DOE%20Fukushima%20Response%20for%20NEAC%20Kelly-june15%202011%20(final).pdf [accessed December 6, 2011].

NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures). 2011. Federal Nuclear Facility Cleanup Sites. [online]. Available: http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid=22153 [accessed December 7, 2011].

Straume, T., G. Rugel, A. A. Marchetti, W. Rühm, G. Korschinek, J. E. McAninch, K. L. Carroll, S. D. Egbert, T. Faestermann, K. Knie, R. E. Martinelli, A. Wallner, and C. Wallner. 2005. Activation measurement for fast neutrons, Part B. 63Ni measurements by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS). Pp. 661-683 in Reassessment of the Atomic Bomb Radiation Dosimetry for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dosimetry System 2002 DS02, Vol. 2, R. W. Young, and G. D. Kerr, eds. Japan: Radiation Effects Research Foundation [online]. Available: http://www.rerf.or.jp/shared/ds02/pdf/chapter09b/cha09b-p661-683.pdf [accessed November 14, 2011].

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×

USNRC (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission). 2004. Multi-Agency Radiological Laboratory Analytical Protocols Manual (MARLAP). NUREG-1576, Supp. 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission [online]. Available: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doccollections/nuregs/staff/sr1576/sr1576supp1.pdf [accessed October 7, 2011].

USNRC. 2011. Directory of Agreement State and Non-Agreement State Directors and State Liaison Officers. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission [online]. Available: http://nrc-stp.ornl.gov/asdirectory.html [accessed December 6, 2011].

Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Suggested Citation:"7 Environmental Management." National Research Council. 2012. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13308.
×
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Next: 8 Summary of Supply and Demand for Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise »
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The growing use of nuclear medicine, the potential expansion of nuclear power generation, and the urgent needs to protect the nation against external nuclear threats, to maintain our nuclear weapons stockpile, and to manage the nuclear wastes generated in past decades, require a substantial, highly trained, and exceptionally talented workforce. Assuring a Future U.S.-Based Nuclear and Radiochemistry Expertise examines supply and demand for expertise in nuclear chemistry nuclear science, and radiochemistry in the United States and presents possible approaches for ensuring adequate availability of these skills, including necessary science and technology training platforms.

Considering a range of reasonable scenarios looking to the future, none of these areas are likely to experience a decrease in demand for expertise. However, many in the current workforce are approaching retirement age and the number of students opting for careers in nuclear and radiochemistry has decreased dramatically over the past few decades. In order to avoid a gap in these critical areas, increases in student interest in these careers, in the research and educational capacity of universities and colleges, and sector specific on-the-job training will be needed. Concise recommendations are given for actions to avoid a shortage of nuclear chemistry, nuclear scientists, and radiochemists in the future.

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