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Suggested Citation:"Synopsis." National Research Council. 2000. Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9949.
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Synopsis

This study examines concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in its planning for transition from active waste site management and remediation to what the department terms “long-term stewardship. ” It examines the scientific, technical, and organizational capabilities and limitations that must be taken into account in planning for the long-term institutional management of the department's numerous waste sites that are the legacy to this country's nuclear weapons program. It also identifies characteristics and design criteria for effective long-term institutional management.

Of the sites in DOE's inventory, few will be cleaned up sufficiently to allow unrestricted use. At many sites, radiological and non-radiological hazardous wastes will remain, posing risk to humans and the environment for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. In some cases, contaminants have migrated off site or are likely to do so in the future. Future changes in the uses of sites and nearby areas make predicting risks even more difficult. In response to the technological, budgetary, and societal problems posed by these sites, DOE plans to rely on institutional controls and other stewardship measures to prevent exposure to residual contaminants following activities aimed at stabilization and containment. One message that emerges from this study, however, is that effective long-term stewardship will likely be difficult to achieve.

In this study it is argued that, while stewardship as defined by DOE is essential, a much broader-based, more systematic approach is needed. For any given site, contaminant reduction, contaminant isolation, and stewardship should be treated as an integrated, complementary system: one that requires foresight, transparently clear and realistic thinking, and accountability. Today's waste management actions should become an integral part of stewardship planning. Scientific, technical, and organizational deficiencies or knowledge gaps should be acknowledged frankly and, where possible, research investments should be made to correct them. The long-term institutional management plan for a legacy waste site should strive for stability, balanced by flexibility and provisions for iteration over time. No plan developed today is likely to remain protective for the duration of the hazards. Instead, long-term institutional management requires periodic, comprehensive reevaluation of those legacy waste sites still presenting risk to the public and the environment to ensure that they do not fall into neglect and that advantage is taken of new opportunities for their further remediation.

Suggested Citation:"Synopsis." National Research Council. 2000. Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9949.
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Suggested Citation:"Synopsis." National Research Council. 2000. Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9949.
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Suggested Citation:"Synopsis." National Research Council. 2000. Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9949.
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It is now becoming clear that relatively few U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) waste sites will be cleaned up to the point where they can be released for unrestricted use. "Long-term stewardship" (activities to protect human health and the environment from hazards that may remain at its sites after cessation of remediation) will be required for over 100 of the 144 waste sites under DOE control (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999). After stabilizing wastes that remain on site and containing them as well as is feasible, DOE intends to rely on stewardship for as long as hazards persist—in many cases, indefinitely. Physical containment barriers, the management systems upon which their long-term reliability depends, and institutional controls intended to prevent exposure of people and the environment to the remaining site hazards, will have to be maintained at some DOE sites for an indefinite period of time.

The Committee on Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes finds that much regarding DOE's intended reliance on long-term stewardship is at this point problematic. The details of long-term stewardship planning are yet to be specified, the adequacy of funding is not assured, and there is no convincing evidence that institutional controls and other stewardship measures are reliable over the long term. Scientific understanding of the factors that govern the long-term behavior of residual contaminants in the environment is not adequate. Yet, the likelihood that institutional management measures will fail at some point is relatively high, underscoring the need to assure that decisions made in the near term are based on the best available science. Improving institutional capabilities can be expected to be every bit as difficult as improving scientific and technical ones, but without improved understanding of why and how institutions succeed and fail, the follow-through necessary to assure that long-term stewardship remains effective cannot reliably be counted on to occur.

Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites examines the capabilities and limitations of the scientific, technical, and human and institutional systems that compose the measures that DOE expects to put into place at potentially hazardous, residually contaminated sites.

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