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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges 1 Introduction Beginning with the Manhattan Project and continuing through the Cold War, the U.S. government constructed and operated a massive industrial complex to produce and test nuclear weapons and related technologies. At its peak, this complex encompassed over 100 distinct sites in 31 states and one territory with a total area of over two million acres (DOE 1997). Most of the nuclear material production and recycling operations took place at five sites: the Hanford Reservation, Washington; the Idaho National Laboratory (INL); the Oak Ridge Reservation (OR), Tennessee; the Rocky Flats Site, Colorado; and the Savannah River Site (SRS), South Carolina. These sites supplied large quantities of nuclear materials, primarily plutonium, highly enriched uranium, and tritium. When the Cold War ended, most of this complex was shut down permanently or placed on standby, and the U.S. government began a costly, long-term effort to clean up the materials, wastes, and environmental contamination resulting from its nuclear materials production. In 1989, Congress created the Office of Environmental Management (EM) within the Department of Energy (DOE) to manage this cleanup effort. EM has made substantial progress. Decommissioning of the Rocky Flats Site, perhaps the nation’s most highly contaminated plutonium facility, was completed ahead of schedule and under budget in 2005, and the site became a national wildlife refuge in 2007. Other cleanup accomplishments are tracked on EM’s website.1 Nonetheless, the scope of EM’s future cleanup work is enormous. 1 See http://www.em.doe.gov/Pages/BudgetPerformance.aspx.
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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges DOE’s fiscal year 2009 budget request put the potential cost of removing or remediating radioactive waste and other contamination at the sites between $265 billion and $305 billion over the next approximately 30 years.2 This is a major liability for DOE and for the nation. According to DOE’s 2008 Agency Financial Report (DOE 2008a, p. 16): The Department has significant unfunded liabilities that will require future appropriations to fund. The most significant of these represent ongoing efforts to clean up environmental contamination resulting from past operations of the nuclear weapons complex. The FY 2008 environmental liability estimate totaled $266 billion and represents one of the most technically challenging and complex cleanup efforts in the world. Estimating this liability requires making assumptions about future activities and is inherently uncertain. The future course of the Department’s environmental cleanup activities will depend on a number of fundamental technical and policy choices, many of which have not been made. The cost and environmental implications of alternative choices can be profound. [Italics added] From its inception, the EM program has faced three fundamental technical challenges: First, to inventory and characterize the vast array of materials, wastes, and contamination resulting from weapons production, testing, and related activities. Second, to decide whether, how much, and when to retrieve, treat, remediate, or dispose of these materials, wastes, and contamination. Third, how to implement the cleanup operations in a timely manner. EM has made major investments in scientific research and technology development to obtain the needed knowledge and tools to meet these challenges. There has been a technology development program within EM since its creation.3 However, headquarters-directed investments in science and technology activities have varied substantially, rising from $184 million in fiscal year 1990 to almost $410 million in fiscal year 1995, followed by a decade-long decline to $21.2 million in fiscal year 2008. This amounted to about 0.4 percent of EM’s total appropriation for fiscal year 2008.4 Beginning in about 2002, the program became focused almost exclusively on short-term technology development needs to support accelerated site cleanup (DOE 2002). There has been recent renewed interest in longer-term cleanup science 2 See http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/09budget/Content/Volumes/Volume5.pdf. 3 This technology development program has had several names: Office of Technology Development (1990-1995); Office of Science and Technology (1995-2003); Office of Environmental Cleanup & Acceleration (2003-2006); and Office of Engineering and Technology (May 2006 to present). 4 See http://www.em.doe.gov/Pages/budgetdocs.aspx.
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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges and technology development, both within upper DOE management and in Congress. This interest was inspired in part by reports of the National Research Council (NRC). A congressionally mandated study (NRC 2006b) evaluated DOE’s plans for retrieval and onsite disposal of certain wastes stored in tanks at the Hanford, Idaho, and Savannah River sites. The report from that study recommended (NRC 2006b, pp. 6-7) that DOE initiate a targeted, aggressive, and collaborative research and development (R&D) program to support its efforts to retrieve waste and clean and close tanks in which this waste is currently being stored. It further recommended that this R&D program last for 10 years with funding on the order of $50 million per year. The fiscal year 2007 House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Report5 recommended an increase in EM’s R&D funding and, to sustain future support, requested that EM provide an engineering and technology roadmap. The roadmap was to identify technology gaps in the current DOE site cleanup program and a strategy, with funding proposals, to address them. The Appropriations Report cited another previous NRC report (2005), as follows: The EM technology development program funding has declined over the years, while at the same time, many technological challenges continue to face the program. For example, the National Research Council’s 2005 report on Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes recommends that “an improved capability for environmental monitoring would strengthen EM’s plans to leave waste and contaminated media at DOE sites,” and, “Monitoring systems at EM closure sites have been estimated to be some 25 years behind the state-of-art.” The Committee directs the increase to address the technology short-falls identified by this report. As EM began work on the Roadmap, the DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management and the EM Office of Engineering and Technology turned to the NRC for assistance. The NRC in turn empaneled the committee that prepared this final report. The committee held its first meeting, as a workshop, in March 2007. In April 2007, EM issued a draft of its Engineering and Technology Roadmap, which provided the basis of much of the committee’s information gathering and deliberations.6 EM issued its first Roadmap in final form in March 2008 (Sidebar 1.1). 5 House Report 109-474 to accompany H.R. 5427, Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, 2007. 6 EM’s Engineering and Technology Roadmap is referred to as the EM roadmap or as the Roadmap throughout this report.
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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges SIDEBAR 1.1 A Brief Description of the EM Cleanup Technology Roadmapa The technology roadmapping process has been widely used as a planning tool in industry and government to match technology resources with desired product or process outputs. In the case of industry, these outputs are often products to meet certain commercialization needs. In Vision 2020: The Lighting Technology Roadmap, DOE used this technique in working with industry to align resources to meet new challenges in building lighting systems (DOE 2007b). The EM roadmap lists five program areas that are central to site cleanup: Tank waste processing (including waste retrieval and tank closure), Groundwater and soil remediation (including buried waste, flow path, and contaminant characterization), Facility deactivation and decommissioning, DOE spent nuclear fuel, and Challenging materials (generally speaking, these are nuclear materials with no definite path to disposition). Technical risks and uncertainties are listed in tabular format for each of these program areas. For example, within tank waste processing, the Roadmap indicates that there are technical risks and uncertainties involving waste storage, waste retrieval, tank closure, waste pretreatment, and stabilization. Strategic initiatives to address each uncertainty are also listed. aDOE (2007a, 2008b). THE COMMITTEE’S APPROACH The Statement of Task for this committee, the Committee for the Development and Implementation of a Cleanup Technology Roadmap,7 asks for advice to support the development of a cleanup technology roadmap for EM (Sidebar 1.2). The committee was to identify (1) existing technology gaps and their priorities, (2) strategic opportunities to leverage needed R&D programs with other organizations, (3) needed core capabilities, and (4) infrastructure at national laboratories and EM sites that should be maintained to accomplish EM’s mission. A technology roadmap is a tool or a disciplined way to plan and couple R&D programs to needed outputs. It is a well-established planning tool in the private sector as well as in government agencies. Given the complex- 7 Referred to as the committee throughout this report.
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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges SIDEBAR 1.2 Statement of Task A National Academies committee will provide technical and strategic advice to the DOE-EM’s Office of Engineering and Technology to support the development and implementation of its cleanup technology roadmap. Specifically, the study will identify: Principal science and technology gaps and their priorities for the cleanup program based on previous National Academies’ reports, updated and extended to reflect current site conditions and EM priorities and input from key external groups, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Environmental Protection Agency, and state regulatory agencies. Strategic opportunities to leverage research and development from other DOE programs (e.g., in the Office of Science, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, and the National Nuclear Security Administration), other federal agencies (e.g., Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency), universities, and the private sector. Core capabilities at the national laboratories that will be needed to address EM's long-term, high-risk cleanup challenges, especially at the four laboratories located at the large DOE sites (Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Savannah River National Laboratory). The infrastructure at these national laboratories and at EM sites that should be maintained to support research, development, and bench- and pilot-scale demonstrations of technologies for the EM cleanup program, especially in radiochemistry. The committee will provide findings and recommendations, as appropriate, to EM on maintenance of core capabilities and infrastructure at national laboratories and EM sites to address its long-term, high-risk cleanup challenges. ity of EM’s cleanup mission and the challenging technologies that must be invented or adapted and utilized to support that mission, a technology roadmap is well suited and indeed essential to plan the future course of EM R&D. The committee included experts in disciplines relevant to the cleanup task, including chemistry and radiochemistry, geoscience, materials science, nuclear and chemical engineering, and health physics. In addition, management expertise in government, academia, national laboratories, and the private sector was represented (Appendix A). The balanced expertise in this committee enabled broad-ranging discussion of the issues related to supporting the development of the Roadmap. EM’s cleanup program has been the focus of numerous studies by the
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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges National Academies over the past 15 years. This committee’s work was “jump started” with a workshop in March 2007 to review the status of the cleanup efforts using the previous studies and updates from the various sites (NRC 2007c). The workshop provided an effective summary of the state of EM’s cleanup program, which became the departure point for the committee’s visits to the four major operating sites: the Hanford Reservation, INL, OR, and SRS. Following each of the site visits, each committee member provided factual input on what he or she had come away with from the visit. This input is summarized in the Appendixes of this report and forms the factual basis for the committee’s synthesis of observations, findings, and recommendations. At the request of the committee, the Appendixes were fact checked by the sites. At roughly the midpoint of its study and at the request of EM, the committee prepared an interim report (Appendix H) that presented three observations that highlighted the needs for an ongoing EM R&D program and longer-term support for this program. The remainder of the study helped confirm the interim report’s early observations. These themes of “ongoing” and “longer-term” are carried through this final report. Sidebar 1.3 describes how the committee viewed the time frames for EM’s roadmapping and R&D programs and used them in developing this report. The three observations provided a context for its final findings and recommendations in Chapter 5. In its deliberations, the committee put together an initial matrix of all the technology gaps it had identified (Appendix C). This list included about 50 items, which were narrowed down in later discussions to yield what the committee considered to be the principal technology gaps facing EM. These are summarized in Chapter 2. The visits to the sites also provided the basis of identifying core capabilities and infrastructure that should be maintained to support EM’s long-term cleanup goals (Chapter 3). As noted earlier, the committee used the draft EM roadmap, issued in April 2007, to guide its information gathering and deliberations. The draft Roadmap included only the first three program areas listed in Sidebar 1.1. The last two areas, spent nuclear fuels and challenging materials, were added in EM’s final Roadmap (DOE 2008b). They were not discussed by the committee as separate program areas. Nevertheless, technology gaps related to them were apparent from the committee’s information gathering, and they are included in one of the gap analyses in Chapter 2. After its site visits, the committee focused its last information-gathering meeting on the topic of leveraging R&D. In this meeting, the committee reviewed the processes of roadmapping and partnering as tools in planning and implementing the leveraging of EM R&D. In addition, a number of organizations from DOE and other federal agencies presented leveraging opportunities to the committee. This provided the basis for Chapter 4.
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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges SIDEBAR 1.3 Time Frames Used by the Committee in Its Deliberations The report from the workshop held at the outset of this study (NRC 2007c) set forth the following time frames, which the committee used throughout its deliberations: Short-term, 1- to 5-year R&D falls within the typical time span of a contract between EM and a cleanup contractor. This is also the typical time span for DOE and congressional funding plans and decisions. Short-term R&D is essential to solving problems that arise in the course of a cleanup activity, and it can lead to important and innovative solutions. It is usually funded by the contractors themselves. Medium-term, 5- to 10-year R&D corresponds approximately to the time required to bring a promising result from applied research to technical maturity to provide a new approach to a cleanup problem. It could provide a safer, more efficient means of conducting an ongoing cleanup job, or a means to undertake a task for which a well-suited technology was previously unavailable. Long-term R&D of greater than 10 years may be required to bring a completely new technology, perhaps resulting from an advance in science, to maturity or implementation. The practical applications of knowledge are hard to forecast. Nevertheless, exploratory research is the basic underpinning of truly new technologies—transistors rather than vacuum tubes. As described in the committee’s interim report, ensuring stable funding for medium- and long-term EM R&D is a necessary role of DOE headquarters and Congress. Given the 30-year time frame of the EM cleanup, the results of long-term R&D could be expected to provide large paybacks on investment by substantially improving EM’s ability to conduct site cleanup. Long term is also used in this report to refer to the time frames for which engineered solutions for waste containment are expected to remain effective. Typically these are time frames of several hundred years or longer. The degree of performance required of these containment systems and barriers for such long times is essentially unprecedented for engineered materials, such as concrete or grout. Understanding of the basic chemical and physical factors that govern such long-term performance is a good example of where medium- to long-term research is required. Chapter 5 gives the committee’s findings and recommendations. The chapter begins with a set of overarching considerations for EM’s roadmapping that followed from the three key observations in the interim report, as noted earlier. The findings and recommendations are directed at future improvements of the Roadmap and how the Roadmap can help ensure
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Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges continuity in EM’s R&D programs, especially in maintaining staff expertise and infrastructure at the DOE sites and national laboratories visited by the committee. At the end of Chapter 5 the committee offers closing observations on how EM’s Office of Engineering and Technology can enhance its role in leading EM’s R&D program.