Tuesday, December 13, 2005

DOE Squandered Billions on Useless
Nuke Waste Technologies
By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S.
Department of Energy has "squandered hundreds of
millions of dollars" since the end of the Cold War
trying to develop innovative technologies for
cleaning up the nation's contaminated nuclear weapons
sites, concludes a Congressional report unveiled last

The report, "Incinerating Cash," was authored by
staff members of the House Commerce Committee's
Republican majority. The committee's Democratic
did not participate in drafting the report.

The report charges that the Department of Energy
(DOE) has wasted much of the $3.4 billion that it has
spent over the last decade on efforts to develop new
technologies for cleaning up nuclear weapons wastes.
Congress ordered the DOE in 1989 to initiate the
program to address the environmental issues resulting
from decades of nuclear weapons production.

The committee's report concludes that the DOE has
spent hundreds of millions of dollars on technologies
that "have not proved useful" in the clean up mission.
Moreover, the "useful" clean up technologies that the
DOE has produced have not been used effectively by the
agency or its private contractors, the report found.

Of the 918 technologies that the DOE has funded,
just 31 - less than 4 percent - have been deployed
more than three times at contaminated nuclear weapons
sites, the report notes. Of the technologies that have
been deployed, more than half have been used only
the report adds.

The report attributes the failure of the program to
an "ongoing pattern of mismanagement and lack of
focus" within the DOE's Office of Science and
Technology, which is implementing the initiative.

Carolyn Huntoon, the DOE's assistant secretary for
environmental management, was quick to dispute the
findings of the Commerce Committee's report. In a
written statement, Huntoon rejected claims that the
technology program has not produced results.

"One out of every five research and development
projects have resulted in a viable technology being
used by the department," Huntoon said.

The DOE's nuclear waste complex consists of 113
geographic waste sites located throughout the country.
The DOE recently estimated that it will cost between
$151 and $195 billion over the next 70 years to clean
up the complex, not including the $51 billion already
spent between 1990 and 1999.

The Commerce Committee's report cited a number of
case studies in concluding that those costs will not
be appreciably reduced by the application of
technologies developed by the DOE's Office of Science
and Technology (OST).

Those case studies were based in large part on a
survey conducted earlier this year, in which several
large DOE site contractors were asked to describe
their use of commercially available OST funded

One DOE site analyzed in the committee's survey was
the Rocky Flats facility near Denver, Colorado, where
large quantities of wastes containing plutonium and
other radioactive constituents must be characterized,
stabilized, packaged and moved off site. The DOE's
environmental management program has to date spent
some $4.9 billion at Rocky Flats, and the agency plans
to spend another $4.5 billion over the next five years
to complete environmental cleanup activities by the
year 2006.

However, the Kaiser-Hill Company, the DOE's
contractor at the site, has so far found use for just
seven commercially available clean up technologies,
the Commerce Committee's report found. The company
will likely deploy no more than three of the DOE's
technologies in the year 2000, the committee's
survey found.

"Thus, after 10 years and $3.4 billion spent to
develop technologies to reduce costs and speed
cleanup, few [DOE] funded technologies have been used
for cleanup at Rocky Flats, and few will likely be
used in the future," the report declares.

The report also notes how DOE funded technologies
have been ineffective in advancing remediation
activities at the Hanford nuclear reservation in
Washington state, where the cleanup of 177
underground tanks containing radioactive wastes is one
of the most expensive and significant long term waste
management projects within the DOE complex.

The report notes that Hanford's radioactive tank
wastes represent a huge potential impact to human
health and the environment. Hanford's Office of
River Protection (ORP) spends more than $300 million
each year for characterization, interim stabilization,
and resolution of tank safety issues to control the
approximately 200 million curies of cesium, strontium
and other radioactive constituents stored in rapidly
degrading underground tanks.

Some 30 tanks are known to have leaked in the past.

Since 1990, the DOE has spent $4 billion on this
project, and the agency plans to spend $13 billion
over the next 70 years on tank farm operations. To
date, the DOE has funded 80 technologies and has
spent hundreds of millions of dollars at Hanford.

But the committee's report finds that the
commercially available technologies funded by the DOE
have provided "no significant use" for characterizing
or stabilizing the Hanford tank wastes, nor will they
do so in the future. According to the CH2M Hill
Group, the DOE's contractor at the site, none of the
commercially available technologies have been deployed
at the Hanford tank farms.

The report is also critical of the DOE's use of
taxpayer funded technologies to improve operations at
the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, where
radioactive waste is interned in casks hundreds of
feet below the surface of the desert.
Posted for educational and research purposes only,
- in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 -
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