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DOE awards Pacific Northwest new funds to help clean up waste sites

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August 20, 1996 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — Department of Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary announced today the winning proposals submitted through a national environmental cleanup program that bridges the gap between fundamental research and applied technologies.

Through the Environmental Management Science Program, DOE awarded 135 grants to universities and national laboratories across the country. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory received $15.8 million for research over the next three years.

"The EM Science Program will provide opportunities for greater integration with the work to be done in the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory," said Martha Krebs, director of DOE's Office of Energy Research. "The program will lead to less costly, more innovative cleanup technologies and will reduce risks to workers, the public and the environment, especially benefiting the citizens who live in communities near DOE sites."

Co-managed by DOE's Offices of Energy Research and Environmental Management, the program focuses on the development of new knowledge to deal with problems that are not easily controlled by using current technologies and to inspire breakthroughs in areas critical to the cleanup mission.

The types of research Pacific Northwest will do under the program include analyzing:


  • the human health effects associated with hazardous substances in the environment


  • how to safely clean up and store radioactive waste in tanks and facilities
  • basic chemical research in binding toxic substances to natural components of the environment
  • the chemical separation of strontium, americium and curium in high-level waste found during tank processing
  • basic research in the geosciences, studying the means by which contaminants move underground
  • basic research in bioremediation, investigating the application of living organisms to remove hazardous components of waste mixtures.


"The EM Science Program is designed to focus the best scientific minds from universities, national laboratories and industry to tackle the most difficult scientific and technological environmental challenges," said Pacific Northwest Director Bill Madia. "These awards are yet another example of DOE's confidence in Pacific Northwest as the environmental laboratory of choice."

Associate Laboratory Director Mike Knotek agreed. "The enthusiastic and high quality of the academia and national laboratories response to this initiative reflects the interest, challenge and opportunity for the country in focusing strong science on this problem. It certainly will pay big dividends."

Each proposal from Pacific Northwest went through an extensive peer review led by project managers Roy Gephart and John LaFemina before it was submitted to DOE. Ten of the 21 initiatives submitted by Pacific Northwest were funded. Only 50 of the 270 proposals submitted from national laboratories were funded.

"Those selected represent a long-term investment in science and technology and how environmental restoration will be conducted in the future," Gephart explained. "They're not Rambo chemistry or a silver bullet for quick fixes to problems. They are investments in solutions to DOE's most complex cleanup problems."

"At the same time," LaFemina added, "these investments in direct fundamental science will have short-, near- and long-term impacts on waste cleanup."

The proposed research will be applied to help clean up DOE's 3,700 contaminated sites in 34 states.

"In the past, restoration concentrated on using existing technologies to achieve milestones. We believe that where appropriate, technologies ready for use should be applied. This offers great opportunity to learn where science and engineering advances can significantly reduce cost and risk of cleanup," Gephart said. "Under the EM Science Program, scientists are able to focus on understanding the fundamental problems associated with cleanup and the implications applying new technologies may have."

For some of the research, Pacific Northwest will team with scientists from other agencies, including the University of Washington in Seattle.

"The multidisciplinary challenges posed by the cleanup mission are enormous," LaFemina said. "Pacific Northwest is committed to developing partnerships with regional universities and other national laboratories to help solve these problems. The EM Science Program is novel in that it encourages these types of partnerships."

Tags: Energy, Environment, Fundamental Science, Chemistry

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