Note: This story was last updated at 3:20 p.m. September 4.
The U.S. Department of Energy is responsible for more than 80 percent of the U.S. government’s estimated $450 billion in environmental liabilities, a federal agency said in a report published this year.
The agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, added the governmentâ€™s environmental liabilities to a high-risk list of federal programs and operations in a report published in February.
Total environmental liabilities for the federal government are estimated at $447 billion. DOE is responsible for about $372 billion of them, or 83 percent, according to a fiscal year 2016 estimate, the GAO said.
Most of DOEâ€™s environmental liability is related to nuclear waste cleanup, the GAO said. Fifty percent of it is at two cleanup sites: the Hanford Site in Washington state and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
The GAOâ€”an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congressâ€”said DOEâ€™s total reported environmental liability has generally increased since 2000. Itâ€™s roughly doubled from a low of $176 billion in fiscal year 1997 to the higher estimate of $372 billion in fiscal year 2016.
â€œIn the last six years alone, EM (environmental management) has spent $35 billion, primarily to treat and dispose of nuclear and hazardous waste and construct capital projects to treat the waste, while EMâ€™s portion of the environmental liability has grown over this same time period by over $90 billion, from $163 billion to $257 billion,â€ the GAO said.
In the past few fiscal years, DOE environmental management has spent about $6 billion per year. The budget request submitted to Congress byÂ President Donald Trump in May asked for $6.5 billion for the DOE Office of Environmental Management, the largest request in a decade.
Oak Ridge has a DOE environmental management program. ItÂ received more than $400 million in funding per fiscal year between 2013 and 2016. The Oak Ridge Office of Environmental ManagementÂ has major cleanup projects at the East Tennessee Technology Park (the former K-25 site), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Y-12 National Security Complex. Cleanup work depends upon funding, but it could continue into the mid-2040s. Although they might be in various stages, projects that are under way now include finishing demolition work at ETTP by 2020, disposing of uranium-233 at ORNL, addressing high-risk excess facilities at ORNL and Y-12, building a Mercury Treatment Facility at Y-12, and shipping transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. [Read more…]