April 2000

Nuclear Cleanup Costs Rise

Associated Press Write, 20 April 2000
By Matt Kelley

[Posted 25/04/2000]

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Energy Department says it now has a better idea how much it will cost to clean up the environmental damage from America's nuclear weapons program: Between $168 billion and $212 billion through 2070.

That's up to 44 percent more than the department estimated two years ago. Seventeen of the 113 sites nationwide will take as much as a decade longer to clean up, while the department hopes to finish work at five sites more quickly than earlier forecast, according to a new agency report.

DOE officials say the changes in cost and time occurred because they now have a better handle on the scope of the contamination and what is required to clean up the sites.

"The numbers this year were more accurate and realistic. That was the difference,'' department spokesman Tom Welch said Wednesday.

The current and former nuclear weapons sites include some of the most highly radioactive areas in the country - Hanford in Washington state, Savannah River in South Carolina, Rocky Flats near Denver and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

DOE is responsible for cleaning up 1.7 trillion gallons of contaminated groundwater, 100 million gallons of highly radioactive liquid, 2,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and 18 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium at the sites.

The increased cost estimates contained in the report, which was released Friday, are not surprising, said David Adelman, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The DOE has had to admit some failures ... and be a little more realistic about the complexity of the problem,'' said Adelman, who monitors the nuclear cleanup for the environmental group. Those failures, he said, included attempts to use new cleanup technology at Hanford and Idaho that did not work.

Adelman also noted the cleanup schedules do not include the long-term monitoring and security needed at the sites after the department's planned cleanups are finished.

"The way we look at it, the dates for cleanup have been absurdly optimistic given the complexity of the issues and the magnitude of the problems,'' Adelman said.

New estimates for some of the major sites include:

- $55.6 billion to clean up Hanford, up from a 1998 estimate of $54.8 billion. The estimated end of the cleanup in 2046 was unchanged.

- $36.8 billion to clean up Savannah River, up from $29.7 billion in 1998. The cleanup deadline of 2038 was unchanged.

- $21.4 billion to clean up the Idaho laboratory, up from $16.3 billion. The deadline of 2050 was unchanged.

- $7.7 billion to clean up Rocky Flats, where the plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons were made until 1989. The latest estimate is up from $7.3 billion in 1998. The department hopes to finish the cleanup by 2006 instead of 2010.

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