oversight

Cleanup Technology: DOE's Program to Develop New Technologies for Environmental Cleanup

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-05-07.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                                                          @CPU2
                          United   States General   Accounting   Office
                          Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations,
                          Committee on Commerce,
                          House of Representatives


For Release on Delivery
Expected at
10 a.m. EDT
                          CLEANUP TECHNOLOGY
Wednesday
May 7,1997

                          DOE’s Program to Develop
                          New Technologies for
                          Environmental Cleanup
                          Statement by Victor S. Rezendes,
                          Director, Energy, Resources, and Science Issues,
                          Resources, Community, and Economic Development
                          Division




 GAO/T-RCED-97-161
  Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

  We are pleased to be here today to discuss several key issues affecting the
  Department of Energy’s (DOE) program to develop new technologies for
  environmental cleanup. DOE established the technology development
  program in 1989 in its Office of Environmental Management (EM). EM’S
  Office of Science and Technology has articulated the mission of the
  technology development program as developing new technologies to
  reduce cleanup costs, reduce risks, and do what cannot be done with
  conventional methods. About $2 billion has been spent on this mission, but
  the program has experienced management problems and its success in
  implementing innovative technologies has been limited.

  Today we will discuss (1) EM’S progress in resolving management
  problems identified in reports we have issued since 1992, (2) barriers to
  the use of innovative technologies, (3) the Technology Deployment
  Initiative that EM has proposed to address these barriers, (4) the program’s
  methods for computing cost savings from the use of innovative
  technologies, and (5) future challenges facing the technology development
  program.

  In summary, we found the following:

. In our April 1992 report, we found that the program was not well managed
  and that EM’S focus was on setting up the program, not on its future
  management.l In particular, we found that EM had not established key
  management tools, such as cost estimates and schedules, and decision
  points for evaluating technology development projects. In January 1993,
  EM implemented a management plan for the program that incorporated our
  recommendations
. In our August 1994 report, we identified several barriers to the use of
  innovative technologies, including the fact that DOE site officials may not
  be familiar with innovative technologies and fear that using new
  technologies may lead DOE to miss milestones if the technology fails to
  perform as expected.2 In response to our recommendations, the Office of
  Science and Technology took several steps, including establishing site
  technology coordination groups to improve two-way communication on
  sites’technology needs and the capabilities of newly developed

  ‘Cleanup Technology Better Management for DOE’s Technology Development Program
  (GAO/RCED-92-146, Apr 10,1992)

  2Department of Energy Management Changes Needed to Expand Use of Innovative Cleanup
  TechnoloBes (GAOIRCED-94205, Aug 10,1994).



  Page 1                                                                  GAO/T-WED-97-161
  technologies. However, barriers to the use of innovative technologies still
  exist, such as DOE'S reliance on site contractors for technical decisions and
  the possibility that contractors may favor particular technologies based on
  their own experiences and investments.
m EM'S fiscal year 1998 budget request proposes a $50 million
  initiative-called the Technology Deployment Initiative-that would
  provide additional funding to sites that first deploy an innovative
  technology. While the Office of Science and Technology hopes that this
  will increase the use of innovative technologies, several unresolved issues
  remain, such as whether additional sites beyond the first site will use the
  innovative technology.
0 Office of Science and Technology has identified potential savings ranging
  from $476-$490 million from the use of innovative technologies. At your
  request, in order to assist the Subcommittee with this hearing, we
  conducted a limited review of the methods used to estimate the cost
  savings for five cases that account for nearly half of the estimated cost
  savings. Overall, we found that DOE used reasonable methods to estimate
  the cost savings associated with the five projects.
0 Based on our prior work on the Environmental Management and
  technology development programs, we believe that there are several new
  challenges facing the Office of Science and Technology. EM'S initiatives to
  accelerate cleanup and privatize certain projects will affect the program
  because cleanup technologies now must be brought to fruition in time to
  be of use in a shortened lo-year time frame, rather than the 30 or more
  years originally planned.


  EM'S technology development program has experienced management
  problems since its inception in 1989. In April 1992, we reported that the
  program was not well managed and that EM'S focus was on setting up the
  program, not on its future management. In particular, we found that EM
  had not established overall cost estimates and schedules, decision points
  for evaluating technology development projects, or measurable
  performance goals. Without these critical management tools, we believed
  EM would have difficulty weeding out poorly performing projects and
  measuring the program’s progress towards its goals. We recommended
  that EM develop and put in place these key management tools.

  In January 1993, EM implemented a management plan for the program that
  incorporated our recommendations. The technology development program
  established cost estimates and schedules for projects that are tracked in
  EM'S automated system. EM also developed decision points (called gates)




  Page2                                                       GAO/%WED-97-161
and related data requirements, which are used to evaluate projects and
make “go/no-go” decisions. While EM has established performance goals
such as readying technologies for deployment, it had not, until requested
to do so by this Subcommittee, measured its performance against a goal of
actual use of technologies. For example, it had not attempted to develop a
comprehensive list of the technologies it had deployed and the associated
cost savings. Consequently, it has been difficult to determine the
program’s degree of success in implementing new technologies and
reducing cleanup costs.

In July 1996, we reported that EM had not coordinated its technology
development activities so that it could prevent unnecessary duplication of
effort3 Specifically, we found that technology development was being
conducted not only by the Office of Science and Technology but also by
EM’S program offices, in particular, the Office of Waste Management, which
are responsible for the actual cleanup. For example, we identified melter
technologies, which use heat to treat hazardous and radioactive wastes, as
an area of potential duplication, because several DOE offices were funding
approximately 60 projects whose estimated costs in fiscal year 1996 were
$40 million A key reason we found for this potential problem was that EM
lacked a comprehensive list of technology development projects being
carried out by its various program areas.

Progress has been made in this area. Specifically, according to an official
in the Office of Waste Management, the office expects to complete a
comprehensive list of its technology development projects in May 1997.
The Office of Science and Technology already has such a list. Moreover,
communication between the Office of Waste Management and the Office
of Science and Technology has improved due to the establishment of
interoffice groups to focus technology development on specific priority
areas. Additionally, the number of melter projects under development has
been reduced from the number cited in our July 1996 report. EM is funding
only five melter development projects in fiscal year 1997 at a total cost of
approximately $12 million as compared with 60 melter projects at a cost of
$40 million in fiscal year 1996.

Our 1996 report also found that technology development projects had
become more concentrated at certain field sites that EM had designated to
lead specific technology development areas, known as focus areas. For
instance, EM designated its Hanford site in Washington State to lead the

3Energy Management Technology Development Program Talong Action to Address Problems
(GAOiRCED-96-184, July 9,1996)



Page 3                                                                 GAO/T-RCED-97-161
                                       development of technologies for remediating radioactive waste in tanks,
                                       the Idaho Falls Office to lead the development of technologies for mixed
                                       waste,4 and the Savannah River site in South Carolina to lead the
                                       development of technologies for soil and groundwater remediation. We
                                       found that in fiscal year 1996, each lead site received more dollars for
                                       projects in its area than it had received in fiscal year 1995, before the
                                       restructuring. For example, Savannah River received 28.6 percent of the
                                       funding for technology development projects for soil and groundwater
                                       remediation in fiscal year 1996, up from 10.9 percent in fiscal year 1995.6
                                       This concentration of funding at lead sites led to concerns by non-lead site
                                       researchers that their projects were not being fairly evaluated in the
                                       selection process.

                                       In looking at the fiscal year 1997 funding for projects at the various sites,
                                       we found that the concentration of funding for projects at the lead sites
                                       had lessened at two of the three sites.6 For example, Idaho’s share of the
                                       funding for mixed waste projects fell from 49 percent in fiscal year 1996 to
                                       about 39 percent in fiscal year 1997. Savannah River’s share of the funding
                                       for work on technologies for soil and groundwater contamination in fiscal
                                       year 1997 is 19.4 percent, substantially lower than the site’s 28.6 percent
                                       share in fiscal year 1996. Hanford’s share of the funding for work on tank
                                       waste technologies increased slightly in fiscal year 1997, by about
                                       6 percent. Table 1 lists the funding shares over the 3-year period.

Teble 1: Percentage d Total Ftnnding
for Focus Areas Received by Lead                                                       Fiscal year         Fiscal year         Fiscal year
Sites                                  Lead Ate (focus area)                                  1 99ga             1 996b               a 997
                                       Richland, Washlngton       (tanks)                      51 3                51 8                57.6
                                       Idaho Falls, Idaho (mlxed waste)                        45 6                49 0                39 0
                                       Savannah River, South Carolina
                                       [subsurface contamlnantsl                               10 9                28.6                194
                                       Qefore restructunng
                                       bFmt year of restructumg




                                       4Mmed waste 1s contammated by both hazardous and radroactrve matenal.

                                       ‘In fiscal years 1995 and 1996, Savannah River led the development of technologies for groundwater
                                       and sorl/landfills These areas are now combmed in the subsurface contammants area We have
                                       combined the fundmg amounts for the two areas for fiscal years 1995 and 1996 m order to provrde a
                                       comparison wrth the fundmg for the subsurface area in fiscal year 1997

                                       6We excluded Morgantown, the lead sue for technologres for the decontammat;lon and
                                       deconumssronmg of facihtres, because Morgantown does not perform any technology development
                                       proJects at its own locanon. We also excluded the area for developmg technologres to stabrbze and
                                       Immobrbze plutonium because its activmes were shll m the plannmg stages at the tune of our 1996
                                       review


                                       Page 4                                                                         GA0/%RCED-9’7-161
                             We also found that none of the lead sites was using disinterested reviewers
                             to determine the technical merit of the proposed work. However, EM has
                             since implemented an independent peer review process in conjunction
                             with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Under the society’s
                             peer review process, reviews are performed by a panel having no personal
                             stake in the outcome of the review. Independent peer reviews are required
                             before technologies can move into pilot-scale projects or field testing and
                             are strongly recommended before making the decision to move projects
                             from the idea-generation phase to the proof-of-technology phase of
                             development.7


                             As we and others have previously reported, innovative technologies have
Barriers to the Use of       been used infrequently in DOE’S cleanup activities. Instead, agency officials
Innovative                   have tended to choose conventional approaches. In our August 1994
Technologies                 report, we identified several causes for this reluctance to adopt new
                             technologies.

                         l   DOEsite officials fear that using new technologies may lead DOE to miss
                           milestones if the technology fails to perform as expected.
                         . DOE’S stakeholders have conflicting priorities that sometimes work against
                           the approval of innovative approaches. For instance, an innovative
                           approach that speeds cleanup may be seen by local governments as a
                           threat to local jobs and economies.
                         l DOE site officials may not be familiar with innovative technologies. They
                           may believe that their use would present an unacceptable risk or be
                           unacceptable to regulators. Lack of reliable information could contribute
                           to this problem.
                         . DOE officials often rely on recommendations from site contractors who
                           may favor particular technologies on the basis of their own experiences
                           and investments.

                             To help increase familiarity with and consideration of innovative
                             technologies, we recommended that EM (1) formally include staff from the
                             Office of Science and Technology in evaluating and selecting technologies
                             to be used in cleaning up sites and (2) more fully involve regulators and
                             other stakeholders in decisions about technology selection.




                             7The Office of hence and Technology uses a five-step process for developmg technologies, startmg
                             with idea generation, progressmg through proof of technology to engmeermg development and
                             demonstration, and culmmatmg wxth implementation or utkahon       by end users



                             Page 6                                                                       GAO/T-WED-97-161
  In response to our recommendations and a general concern about the
  barriers to the use of innovative technologies, the Office of Science and
  Technology has taken a number of steps, including the following:

Q It reorganized the program into specific areas to focus on the most
  pressing technology needs and increase the involvement of EM'S program
  offices in technology development. EM has established these areas to
  develop technologies for remediation of radioactive wastes in tanks, soil
  and groundwater remediation, mixed waste problems, decontamination
  and decommissioning of facilities, and plutonium stabilization and storage.
  Teams for these areas include members from sites and from headquarters
  program offices, such as the Office of Waste Management.
Q It established site technology coordination groups to improve two-way
  communication on sites’technology needs and the capabilities of newly
  developed technologies.
0 It is working with stakeholder organizations and state regulators to
  facilitate the permitting of new technologies in multiple states.


  Recognizing that barriers to the use of innovative technologies still exist,
  EM  has proposed $50 million for a Technology Deployment Initiative in its
  fiscal year 1998 budget request. This initiative would provide funding to
  DOE'S sites for the first deployment (use) of an innovative technology that
  has already been tested and demonstrated. EM is particularly interested in
  increasing the use of innovative technologies that could speed cleanup or
  reduce costs. Proposals from the sites for this new program are due in
  May 1997. In selecting proposals, EM plans to consider factors such as: the
  improvement over the baseline technology, involvement of more than one
  DOE location, acceleration of cleanup, approach to stakeholder and
  regulatory considerations, and cost reduction. If cost savings are achieved
  through the use of an innOVatiw    tdUI0k$y,    EM plans to allow the first site
  that deploys the technology to retain the savings to accelerate other
  cleanup projects.

  We recently reviewed the Technology Deployment Initiative as part of our
  annual review of EM'S budget and have several concerns8 Under this
  approach, DOE'S sites would receive additional funds to select the best
  technology for the job. However, it is not clear to us that providing
  additional funding through the Office of Science and Technology, a
  program that is responsible for the design and testing of technology, is the
  best way to accomplish the use of innovative technologies. Nor does it




  Page 6
                    appear that EM has studied alternative means of accomplishing this goal         ’
                    through its program offices, such as the Offices of Environmental
                    Restoration and Waste Management.

                    EM did not arrive at its $50 million budget request through a detailed study.
                    According to managers in the Office of Science and Technology, the
                    amount of fundmg requested was judgmental and was intended to provide
                    for a variety of projects in several geographic areas. However, the number
                    of projects that would be funded is also uncertain. Some officials
                    estimated that 8 to 15 projects could be funded, while another official
                    estimated that 20 or more could be funded.

                    It is uncertain that additional sites beyond the first deployment would
                    subsequently use the innovative technologies. While the site making the
                    proposal under the Technology Deployment Initiative must make a written
                    commitment to use the innovative technology, additional sites are required
                    to submit only letters of interest with the proposal.

                    Finally, while the Technology Deployment Initiative attempts to overcome
                    some of the barriers to using newer technologies, other barriers remain,
                    making the success of the initiative uncertain. For instance, one barrier
                    has been the concern about regulators’ willingness to accept new
                    technologies. The requirement that proposals under the initiative develop
                    an approach to deal with regulators may help to reduce this barrier.
                    However, the initiative does not address DOE'S reliance on site contractors
                    for technical decisions and the possibility that contractors may favor
                    particular technologies on the basis of their own experience or
                    investments. In discussing with us the difficulties in getting sites to use
                    newer technologies, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and
                    Technology described the initiative as working within the existing reality
                    of the Environmental Management program. Specifically, EM'S traditional
                    contracting approach does not provide incentives for speedier, more
                    cost-effective cleanups. This significant barrier may not be overcome until
                    EM'S ongoing contract reforms are more fully implemented.



                    In response to this Subcommittee, the Office of Science and Technology
Cost Savings From   supplied a list of innovative technologies that had been deployed or
Innovative          selected for use and the associated cost savings. The Office estimated that
Technologies        the use of 41 innovative technologies would result in cost savings ranging
                    from $476 million to $490 million; cost savings from other innovative
                    technologies have yet to be determined. As agreed, we conducted a limited



                    Page 7                                                      GAO/T-RCED-97-161
                                                  review of the methods the Office of Science and Technology used to
                                                  derive cost savings for five technology deployment projects that
                                                  accounted for almost 50 percent of the estimated cost savings. Table 2
                                                  describes the five projects, the estimated cost savings, and the current
                                                  status of the projects.


Table 2: Description   of Five hnovative    Technologies    With Cost Savings   Estimates
Dollars In mrlllons
Name of technology                                                                          Cost savings
(locatian of use)                   Description                                                  estimate    Status of technology
Deep So11Mixing (Portsmouth)       Adaptation of technology from                                    $75 0 Remediatron project
                                   heavy constructlon Industry Use of                                     completed In 1994
                                   a hollow drilling tool and chemicals
                                   along wrth vapor stripping to
                                   remedrate contaminants in soil and
                                   groundwater
SVS Automated Control System       Automated controls adapted from                                    $9 4 Automated controls installed in
(Savannah Rover)                   oil industry for use on so11vapor                                       August 1996, to be used for
                                   extraction units In remediatrng                                         duration of project-about   20
                                   underground contamrnatlon                                               years
Dynamic Underground Stripping      Combination of technologies of                                    $19 0 Cleanup of gasoline spill
(Lawrence Livermore National       steam rn]ection and vacuum                                              completed In December 1993
Laboratory)                        extraction, electrical resistance
                                   heating, and underground imaging
                                   and monitoring to extract
                                   underground contamlnatron
In Situ Solution Mining for        Adaptation of technology from                                   $100 0 Field demonstration currently
Uranium Recovery from              mining industry to use injection                                       under construction and
Groundwater Plumes                 wells to extract uranium from                                          expected to begin operating in
(Fernald)                          groundwater                                                            spring 1998 Full-scale
                                                                                                          deployment In subsequent
                                                                                                          phase
Minimum Additive Waste             Vitrification (immobilization in glass)                           $25.0   Melter began operating In
Stabrlizatron/DuraMelter           of mixed waste in M-Area tanks                                            October 1996 but IS currently
(Savannah River)                                                                                             off-line because its interior
                                                                                                             deteriorated   DOE expects to
                                                                                                             re-start melter by the end of
                                                                                                             1997

                                                  Overall, we found that DOE used reasonable methods to estimate the cost
                                                  savings associated with the five projects. However, the degree of
                                                  confidence that can be placed in the estimates varies.

                                                  For three projects-Deep Soil Mixing, svs Automated Control System, and
                                                  Dynamic Underground Stripping-the methods used to prepare the
                                                  estimates appear reasonable. For example, for the svs Automated Control



                                                  Page 8
System project, DOE used the actual cost and productivity savings incurred ’
since the technology was deployed as the basis for estimating the reduced
time and resulting cost savings associated with usmg this new automated
control system, as compared with using the previous manual control
system for the remainder of the cleanup effort. Similar approaches were
used for estimating the savings associated with the other two projects.
However, DOE was not able to supply the original supporting
documentation for the baseline used to compute the savings for the Deep
Soil Mixing project. In response to our requests, DOE was able to produce a
newer baseline estimate that resulted in a cost savings estimate of
$81 million.

For the In Situ Uranium Recovery project, we found that although the
basic methodology used to estimate the savings appeared reasonable, the
project is at such an early stage, that its estimate can best be described as
very preliminary. Specifically, this project is currently under construction;
a demonstration phase is scheduled to begin in 1998 before full scale
operation. DOE officials described the cost savings from this project as
“conceptual estimates” that could change depending on how much the
project costs to run and how long it operates. If the project costs more to
operate than DOEcurrently expects, or needs to operate longer than the 7.5
years currently planned, the cost savings could be significantly lower.

F’inahy, we have concerns about the savings estimate for the Savannah
River DuraMelter. In addition to attributing the savings from this project to
technology development, DOE has also claimed the same savings under its
privatization initiative. In our recent report on the cost savings estimates
for DOE'S privatization projects,g we noted that the accuracy of the
estimate associated with this project was affected by the fact that the
savings were derived by comparing projects of different scopes.
Specifically, DOE compared the cost of having the management and
operating contractor build a permanent facility that would use grout (a
cementlike material) to immobilize the existing waste in the M-Area tanks
plus additional waste that was expected to be generated in support of
continuing reactor operations over a lo-year period, with the cost of
having the privatized contractor build a temporary facility and vitrify only
the existing inventory. No data existed to make a one-for-one cost
comparison of projects with similar scopes. When we discussed the status
of this project with the DOE project manager, he told us that the use of a
different technology-vitrification    versus grout-accounts for only about


gNuclearWaste DOE'sEstimatesofPotentialSavmgsFkomPnvatizmgCleanupPro~ects
(GAO/RCED-97-49R,Jan   31,1997)



Page 9                                                                      GAO/‘&WED-97-161
  $6 million of the claimed savings. The balance is due to changes in the
  scope and duration of the project.


  Based on our prior work on the Environmental Management and
  technology development programs, we believe that there are several new
  challenges facing the Office of Science and Technology. EM is preparing to
  embark on a lo-year plan, which is intended to bring all but the most
  recalcitrant cleanup problems under control within the next 10 years.
  Previously, the cleanup was expected to last 30 or more years. The
  proposed lo-year effort raises significant questions for the Office of
  Science and Technology:

Q First, what technologies still under development can be brought to fruition
  in time to be of use in the shortened lo-year tune frame? Officials in the
  Office of Science and Technology told us that projects in the early stages
  of development would generally not be funded in fiscal year 1998. In
  addition, this office is currently reviewing how its projects link to the
  technology needs and schedules in sites’draft lo-year plans. According to
  the program manager working on the Office of Science and Technology’s
  input into the lo-year plans, the information from this review may further
  affect the fiscal year 1998 plans for technology development projects and,
  by fiscal year 1999, all technology development projects that receive
  ffunding should have a clear link to sites’needs under the lo-year plans.
0 Second, the Office of Science and Technology is spending about
  $50 million a year for basic science research. Are some areas of basic
  research capable of coming to fruition within the lo-year time frame? Or,
  should the basic science research program focus on the problems that will
  remain after 10 years?

  EM   is also relying on the privatization of cleanup activities to help it meet
  the lo-year time frame. Under privatization, private companies would
  finance, design, build, and operate facilities such as waste treatment
  plants, delivering a finished product such as an acceptable waste form for
  disposal.   The companies would have greater latitude in selecting the
  technology for use in producing the product, than if DOE and its site
  contractor were managing the design, CQIIS~I-UC~~Q~, and operation. The
  Office of Science and Technology is considering how this new contracting
  concept would affect their plans for technology development. For
  example, this type of contracting, to be successful, requires well-defined
  performance specifications. According to managers in the Office of




  Page10
Science and Technology, they plan to help sites to define doable
performance specifications.

The Office of Science and Technology has begun to draft strategies for
supporting these initiatives. For example, the strategies are expected to
address how the office can support privatization by sharpening contract
specifications and enabling site personnel to determine the acceptability
of finished products. After the draft national summary of the sites’ lo-year
plans is available (expected in late spring of 1997), the Office of Science
and Technology plans to obtain public comment on its strategies during
the summer of 1997 and then to finalize the strategies. Program managers
are aware of the issues that we have just mentioned and recognize that
changes in the Office of Science and Technology may be needed to
support EM’snew mitiatives.


Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. We would be pleased
to respond to any questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee
may have.




Page 11                                                     GAOFJ-RCED-97-161’
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