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A recent National Research Council study estimates that there are now 217,000 contaminated sites in the United States (NRC, 2003a). The proliferation of hazardous…
A recent National Research Council study estimates that there are now 217,000 contaminated sites in the United States (NRC, 2003a). The proliferation of hazardous contamination across the landscape is an unwelcome if unsurprising byproduct of industrialization during the past century and the ledger continues to grow despite billions spent on remediation. Both government and the private sector are culpable in the production and disposal practices that created these sites. Although most sites are small and privately owned, the largest, and the majority of the most hazardous sites, were created by government itself. This is particularly the case with respect to nuclear weapons production, development and testing, but is also the result of other defense-related activities. These sites collectively contain billions of cubic yards of soil and groundwater in need of remediation (NRC, 2003a). Many would threaten both the environment and human health in their current condition, if present-day management control were to be neglected or lost.
This paper offers a personal perspective on the author's experience working with issues relating to the long-term management of nuclear contaminated sites, from the programmatic to the site-specific. Long-term care is and will be far more challenging than remediation activities; thus, the dynamics of long-term care require different approaches to problem solving. The need for nonlinear thinking will challenge management that has traditionally relied on linear approaches. Integrated risk management potentially offers some powerful and flexible tools for identifying and managing uncertainties. Managing uncertainties involves not only traditional budget, schedule, cost, and worker safety issues, but also other influences that are not easily quantifiable, including regulatory, cultural, social, political, legal, and “quality” issues. Understanding and incorporating changes in social context is critical to the planning and implementation processes of long-term care; the Department of Energy (DOE) must utilize processes that have consistency over time and that involve the public throughout the process. Management in the long term must reflect an understanding of how human systems function and how they couple with technological systems. DOE's relative success with its Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Program exhibits some of these components. Many are now recognizing these components as key needs for any long-term care program for long-lived hazards.