This is a period of change for America and for the Department of Energy. Fittingly, the transition to a new President and new administration offers the chance reflect on one of DOE’s core programs, the Office of Environmental Management (EM) and the opportunities that lie ahead.
While DOE, like all government agencies, will likely continue to face uncertain budgets, it is important to acknowledge the critical value that EM brings in successfully cleaning up chemical and radioactive contamination produced as a legacy of our nation’s nuclear weapons development and nuclear research efforts, and in building, maintaining and utilizing a cleanup infrastructure that is unparalleled worldwide. It is clear that further investment in this infrastructure can bring measurable successes for the country to continue the progress already under way.
Targeted, strategic investment in EM allows for meaningful mission completion that significantly reduces long-term risks and costs. EM provides real risk reduction to workers through stabilization of nuclear materials and waste, and removal of facilities that continue to deteriorate over time. And just as important, it’s an opportunity to fulfill longstanding commitments to the American people and the states and communities that host and have supported these vital national security missions.
The highly skilled federal and contractor work force across the country has proven repeatedly that an investment in EM provides real returns. In 1989, the program started with 107 sites in 35 states. Today, the program has 16 sites in 10 states and further significant progress is within reach over the next four years.
There is no doubt EM presents a significant opportunity for the next administration, both as an economic engine in key states and as a high-profile platform for near-term successes with lasting fiscal and environmentally beneficial impact.
More than 90 percent of EM’s annual $6 billion budget is contracted out to private contractors ranging from large engineering and construction firms to small businesses. As that funding flows into Washington, Tennessee, Idaho, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico and other key states, the economic benefits of that $6 billion increase exponentially, creating jobs up and down the supply chain, spurring reindustrialization in the regions that helped win World War II and the Cold War, promoting cutting-edge technology, and driving educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
That investment can also drive dramatic reductions in the billions of life-cycle costs of EM’s total cleanup liability, with many opportunities for near-term progress and success.
That’s a great combination of mission completion and economic benefit that should well serve the goals of the EM program and the new administration.
Over the last quarter century, EM has emerged as a highly effective program that emphasizes safety, efficiency and performance. With this foundation, EM is well-positioned for further success in the next administration.
Dr. Todd Wright is the Executive Vice President of Operations for the AECOM Management Services Nuclear and Environment Strategic Business Unit. He has operations management responsibility for AECOM’s work with the Department of Energy, which includes Washington River Protection Solutions. WRPS is the organization responsible for management of the Hanford underground waste tanks.