Scientists call for less destructive remediation at DOE sites

Scientists from Colorado State University, the University of Georgia and Argonne National Laboratory, writing in the journal Science, suggest that some of the policies for remediating slightly contaminated land on U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites be changed.

Some clean-up efforts have been based on the unrealistic scenario that people will live on the land for a lifetime, and derive their food and water solely from the contaminated site. This and other conservative assumptions often force remediation of even very low levels of radioactive contamination. Such remediation, according to the paper, can lead not only to unnecessary excavation, transport and reburial elsewhere of slightly contaminated soil, but does more environmental damage than had the contaminant remained in place, and does little to reduce public health risks.

According to the authors, one approach to solve the problem of "unreasonably restrictive cleanup criteria" would be Congressional action that ensures continuing Federal control of some contaminated DOE sites, and thereby eliminate the hypothetical "site resident" scenario. The authors maintain that continued Federal control would minimize public health risks, environmental damage and remediation costs.

In addition to these benefits, the scientists say preserving such sites as is would also provide significant benefits for wildlife, biodiversity and regional air and water quality. The scientists state that typically only 10 to 15 percent of the land is used for industrial purposes on the larger national DOE facilities. The remaining areas serve as natural buffers that have thrived from over 50-years of public isolation. These contiguous DOE lands contrast sharply with adjacent pubic lands that are highly fragmented by urbanization and farming practices.

Co-author Tom Hinton of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, a research unit of UGA located on the Savannah River Site in South Ca

Contact: Rosemary Forrest
University of Georgia

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