During the 1980s, the U.S. began to come to terms with the environmental legacy of the Cold War arms race. Past management practices, primarily involving the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, resulted in many environmental problems. These problems include leaking or deteriorating containment vessels resulting in the seepage of radioactive, chemical and mixed wastes into the soil and groundwater as well as the escape and transport of airborne contaminants. These pressing issues demanded attention and illustrated the need to redirect resources from weapons production to environmental restoration and waste management.
In 1989, DOE responded to these concerns by establishing the Office of Environmental Management (EM) and by delegating the responsibility for U.S. nuclear weapons complex cleanup to this office. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management provides policy development and guidance for the assessment and cleanup of inactive waste sites and facilities, and waste management operations; develops and implements an aggressive applied waste research and development program to provide innovative environmental technologies to yield permanent disposal solutions at reduced costs; and oversees the transition of contaminated facilities from various Departmental programs to environmental restoration once they are determined to be surplus to their original missions.
Today, EM still faces a challenging task. The 2000 DOE Strategic Plan stated that DOE manages vast volumes of contaminated waste comprised of seven fundamental waste categories: high-level, low-level, transuranic, mixed low-level, hazardous, by-product material, and "other" wastes. In addition, EM oversees 4,000 facilities awaiting decontamination, decommissioning, and dismantling. These challenges will require the identification of technologies and scientific expertise from a variety of sources including industry, academia, U.S. National laboratories, and the international community.
EM Office of Science and Technology
The Office of Science and Technology (OST) conducts an aggressive technology development program for the deployment of innovative solutions to address DOE's environmental remediation needs. OST investments provide the scientific foundation for new approaches and technologies that bring about significant reductions in risk, cost, and schedules for EM mission completion.
The mission of OST is to provide the full range of science and technology resources needed to deliver and support fully-developed, deployable technological solutions to the environmental remediation problems faced by EM. The OST International Program (IP) Office is responsible for the identification, evaluation, acquisition, and demonstration of international technologies that can accelerate DOE cleanup operations. The goal of IP is to pursue collaborations among governmental organizations, educational institutions, and private industry to identify technologies that can address the environmental remediation needs of DOE. Through international agreements, OST engages in cooperative exchanges of information, technology, and data on technology development and demonstrations.
In keeping with EM's mandate to protect public health and the environment, IP seeks out and leverages foreign technology, data, and resources for the cost-effective remediation of DOE's nuclear weapons sites. IP works closely with foreign governments, industry and universities to obtain innovative environmental technologies, scientific and engineering expertise, and operational experience that will support EM's objectives. Where appropriate, these international resources are used to manage the more urgent risks at DOE sites, secure a safe workplace, help build consensus on critical issues, and strengthen DOE's science and technology program.