Office of Legacy Management

Director Melendez’s Opening Remarks to the 2018 Long-Term Stewardship Conference

August 20, 2018

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Carmelo Melendez giving opening remarks at the 2018 LTS Conference, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Good Morning! It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) 2018 Long-Term Stewardship Conference. Our theme for the conference is Preserving the past, preparing for the future: a broad perspective on long-term stewardship. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to travel here to beautiful Grand Junction, Colorado to attend our conference. It’s nice to see so many familiar faces as well as new faces in the audience this morning.

I’d like to start off by expressing my appreciation to the friends and colleagues who will be joining me on the stage this week and attending our conference. I’m grateful to have your support.

We are excited to host this conference again. Our last Long-Term Stewardship Conference was in 2010, and before that in 2001. Given the valuable ideas and conversations that emanated from those conferences, and given the changing landscape, technological advancements in long-term stewardship (LTS), and the growth LM has experienced since that time, we felt it was time to bring our DOE colleagues and industry partners together again. Looking at the agenda, it’s safe to say we have packed in as much technical information, education, and networking opportunities as possible over the next three days.

I find conferences are a great time to meet with colleagues, and discuss best practices, lessons learned, challenges, and solutions. Whether this dialogue happens in one of the Q&A sessions this week, in line at the lunch buffet, or down the street at one of Grand Junction’s many fine establishments, I encourage you to take this time to talk to each other in real time.

Since taking this position at the end of 2016, I’ve learned it takes a lot of people working together and talking to each other for LTS activities to be fully successful and effectively implemented. It is certainly not a one man or woman job—collaboration, consultation with our stakeholders, and teamwork are key to effective LTS.

Stewardship is defined as “conducting, supervising, or managing something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.” We are gathered here today as stewards of our country, our land and resources, our family’s well-being, and our children’s future. We have an important job protecting human health and the environment, which is the core mission of my organization.

LM was established in 2003 to manage DOE’s responsibilities associated with the closure of World War II and Cold War era sites. The federal government used these sites to research, produce, and test nuclear weapons and conduct other scientific and engineering research. The operations conducted in this vast network of industrial facilities left a legacy of radioactive and chemical waste, environmental contamination, and hazardous facilities across the country.

Our nation has a moral obligation to tackle that environmental legacy; to honor the obligations of the past; and to make steady and sustained progress on the cleanup in a safe, efficient, and cost-effective manner. This is a high priority for Secretary Perry and it is the responsibility of LM.

Today my combined team of 500 dedicated federal employees and our contractor partners, like my colleague Susana Navarro, perform LTS activities for 92 sites nationwide. From Alaska to Puerto Rico, tribal lands, urban centers, rural and industrial—our sites are as diverse as they are geographically vast.

LM has strong support from local communities, state organizations, and on Capitol Hill for our program activities. Both the House and Senate fully approved the LM fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request of roughly $159 million. This was up from about $155 million in FY 2018.

Since 1989, DOE has taken an aggressive, accelerated cleanup approach to reduce risks, cut costs, and ensure the protection of human health and the environment. The establishment of LM is part of that approach. At most DOE sites, some residual hazards will remain after cleanup is completed due to inaccessible contaminants, risk resourcing conditions that do not warrant further expenditures, construction of on-site disposal cells, or an agreed-upon use scenario, such as cleaning up to an industrial exposure standard.

However, DOE still has an obligation to protect human health and the environment after cleanup is completed by providing LTS of post-cleanup sites that do not have continuing missions.

The long-term management for each of the 92 sites overseen by LM is designated by one of three categories based on the actual or anticipated long-term surveillance and maintenance (LTS&M) activities associated with that site. The site category indicates the level of LTS&M activities expected for each site:

  • Category 1 sites have the most minimal work requirements for completion of LTS&M activities, including records-related activities and limited stakeholder support.
  • Category 2 sites typically include routine inspections, such as any site visits needed to verify the integrity of engineered or institutional barriers; monitoring, maintenance, and records-related activities; and stakeholder support.
  • Category 3 sites are our most active sites, with all of the activities listed for Category 1 and 2 sites, as well as operation and maintenance of active remedial action systems.

A common question I get is, “When does LM get involved with remediation of a site?” LM typically begins “transition activities” two to five years ahead of the formal transition date for sites it will eventually take responsibility. It is actually not uncommon for LM to have more expenditures for sites in the years just prior to transition than after the site comes to LM. At sites like Bear Creek, Wyoming; Colonie, New York; and Ray Point, Texas, we have been collaborating with multiple stakeholders in anticipation of the imminent transfer of responsibilities to DOE.

Activities that take place during transition are important to us and our stakeholders. LM roles includes preparing LTS&M plans that are acceptable to regulators and stakeholders, and collecting records from when the site was actively operating and from the cleanup phase. These records could be important in the future; for example, if monitoring results, are different than anticipated. We also meet with regulators, local and tribal nation representatives, and stakeholders to understand their concerns about the site to make the transition from one part of DOE, or from another federal agency to LM, as transparent and as smooth as possible.

Other transition responsibilities include identifying and preserving records, and ascertaining that real property instruments, such as administrative institutional controls, are in place. The designation of when transition activities begin at a site will help LM better align its budget formulation, life-cycle planning, and staffing when work actually begins at future LM sites.

Once site cleanup is complete, LM accepts title to these sites on behalf of the United States and DOE and assumes all long-term management activities. Currently, LM is performing transition activities on 11 additional sites and anticipates adding those new sites by the end of FY 2020. We are ready to receive additional sites into LTS, positioning us to be responsible for around 100 sites by 2021. In short, our portfolio of sites will only continue to grow and our responsibilities will increase in the time to come.

There are many aspects involved in LTS&M of remediated sites. Effective LTS for LM includes five key elements or goals, as they are defined in our Strategic Plan and Concept of Operations.

1. First and foremost, the environmental protection of protection of human health is the number one goal of LTS. This includes LM management of closed disposal cells and contaminated soil and groundwater to ensure protection of human health and the environment.

Collaboration is key for implementing LTS activities necessary to protect human health and the environment following cleanup and disposal of radioactive and chemical wastes.

I want to share a few examples today to illustrate our commitment to collaboration. At the Monument Valley, Arizona, site, LM successfully remediated a groundwater nitrate plume by using native shrubs that took up the contaminants as part of natural transpiration. This approach of enhancing natural processes for cleanup was important to the Navajo Nation.

Another example, at the Weldon Spring site, the state of Missouri offered LM their position on the monitored natural attenuation remedy. Although, we have had differences of opinion on how to best maintain the remedy, I must confess, that a solution to any groundwater remediation challenge requires openness to site-specific challenges using the best value approach to determine how and when to transition from more active treatments to monitored natural attenuation or, conversely, when to intervene at a site in monitored natural attenuation.

This level of engagement between tribes, states, and local governments is critical to LTS. I sincerely appreciate the critical thinking by the dedicated staffs of state of Missouri and the Navajo Nation in both of these examples.

You may wonder why we operate an office here in Grand Junction or why we selected this location to hold this conference. Grand Junction was the focus for post-closure management of Uranium Mining Tailings Radiation Act, or UMTRA, mill tailings sites throughout the uranium belt in the western United States.

Those of you who have opted to participate in the UMTRA site tour, will get to see firsthand, how remedial and LTS activities are managed and implemented at the Moab site. The scope of the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s Moab UMTRA Project is to relocate mill tailings and other contaminated materials to an engineered disposal cell constructed near Crescent Junction, Utah, as well as performing active groundwater remediation at the site. I’m sure this will be an interesting and worthwhile tour.

Also, some of you will have a chance to tour the Grand Junction Disposal Site, which is located less than 20 miles from here. This site is unique because it served, and continues to serve, as a central disposal cell, receiving contaminated materials from vicinity properties, contaminated materials generated from utility and road work projects by local municipalities, as well as materials from other former UMTRA sites. For those of you going on the tour, you will have the chance to see the cell operations and receiving area, the de-contamination area, the Enhanced Cover Assessment Project, and the disposal cell itself.

Aligned with the Department’s efforts to streamline nuclear cleanup operations and focus on efficiency, LM actively uses advancements in science and technology where appropriate to increase the effectiveness and reduce the costs of LTS activities. The Savanah River National Laboratory is our lead laboratory to leverage the national laboratory network that has done and continues to do applied science and engineering relevant to remediation and LTS activities. Those activities can benefit from the latest scientific knowledge and the use of advanced technologies in three areas:

  1. Monitoring technologies used to evaluate and maximize the effectiveness of institutional controls and engineered barriers
  2. Technologies related to resource management to support the preservation of biological, natural, and cultural resources
  3. Information management technologies used to preserve LTS information, as science and technology will continue to advance over the life of the stewardship

2. This brings me to my second element of LTS—the management of legacy records and the importance of making them accessible to the public and future generations. Cleanup and LTS programs work together to ensure the requisite information generated during the cleanup mission, which is necessary to support LTS and required under the regulatory process, is preserved and available for the future in a timely, cost-effective, and understandable manner.

The Legacy Management Business Center was opened at the West Virginia University Research Park in Morgantown, West Virginia and acts as our central information repository. The facility is a National Archives and Records Administration-certified federal records storage facility with 150,000 cubic foot storage capacity, including a controlled environment area for special media storage.

LM has also developed a Geospatial Environmental Mapping System (GEMS), which posts environmental data to our website. GEMS is continuing to undergo improvements with our stakeholders in mind. We are working to make it more user-friendly so that stakeholders can quickly access data and group or arrange it in a customized way to meet their individual needs. I’m very excited about this.

3. The third element is not a topic at this week’s conference, but I’d be remiss to not present it. Part of LM’s LTS program is ensuring the pension and post-retirement benefit commitments for former contractor nuclear workers are satisfied. LM funds pensions and post-retirement benefits, including medical and life insurance for over 12,000 former contractor workers and their spouses.

4. The fourth key element of LTS is facilitating beneficial reuse of closed sites. DOE is the responsible federal land manager and steward of natural and cultural resources at DOE sites. LM uses institutional controls to manage lands, facilities, materials, and resources under its jurisdiction. Many of these controls are required as part of the decision process established by various laws, such as the Nuclear Waste Policy Act; the Atomic Energy Act; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), or cultural resource management statutes.

One example of LM’s beneficial reuse that I’m proud of is the Fernald Site outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. The site was remediated and restored, and the former uranium ore processing facility is now home to the Fernald Preserve, which has one of the largest manmade wetlands in Ohio, featuring large tracts of open water, upland forests, a lengthy riparian corridor, and tall grass prairies. A 10,000 square-foot Visitors Center is also open, free of charge to the public. More than 25,000 people annually visit the Visitor Center each year, including many students who are offered educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This is a priority for our organization, and I’d like to ensure we continue to develop our future leaders in this field, specifically in the niche of LTS.

5. Last but not least, stakeholder engagement is an important component of LTS. Legacy Management wants a greater meaningful involvement by all stakeholders, especially local and tribal members in all of our activities. I encourage all those with questions, thoughts, and feedback on how we do our work to please talk to any of us in LM.

LM values working closely with representatives of the other federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, and community organizations. We are always looking for ways to improve and opportunities for collaboration and partnerships. Relating to people is what gets results.

A great example of stakeholder engagement I’ll present to you is our work on the Navajo Nation. LM has four legacy sites on the Navajo Nation: Shiprock, New Mexico; Monument Valley, Arizona; Mexican Hat, Utah; and Tuba City, Arizona. DOE established the Office of Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action on the Navajo Nation more than 20 years ago to oversee LTS activities and to assist in managing the sites. Based on years of experience and familiarity with land management, the Navajo Nation Office of Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation, Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (NN AML/UMTRA) has provided valuable insights into erosion control on native soils and LM works closely with our Navajo public affairs counterparts to engage communities in a two-way dialogue. We have supported over a dozen outreach events on the Navajo Nation this year, including reaching out to local schools for STEM engagement and attending tribal meetings and community events.

DOE has administered a cooperative agreement with the Navajo Nation for more than 20 years; the agreement provides financial support for tribal engagement in LTS activities and oversight. I know I can count on all of our local communities and tribal partners to present a solid, holistic examination of LTS challenges and together we can formulate solutions. That is the value of meaningful consultation and collaboration.

LM is also the DOE-wide coordinator for environmental justice (EJ), and we are avid proponents and practitioners. Our goal is to achieve EJ and foster nondiscrimination in programs that substantially affect human health and the environment like LTS. Our own departmental EJ lead, Melinda Downing, was recently recognized with a Doctorate Honoris Causa for her contributions in the EJ field. We are committed to the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the actions and activities we undertake.

During the next three days you will learn from speakers, presentations, and panel discussions that cover these elements of LTS, including garnering international perspectives on current LTS practices, maintaining continuity of stewardship while transitioning from cleanup to stewardship, and addressing legacy uranium mine site. Taking a look at the eight tracks and the sessions presented Wednesday and Thursday, I know I’m not the only one with a very full dance card.

I am truly honored to share this stage with so many esteemed colleagues and peers in this field who have my respect and admiration. I am looking forward to hearing from our keynote speakers, Dr. Michael Paul, division head of engineering and radiation protection and head of the water management department for Wismut, presenting “The Wismut Story: Insights from a Long-Term Environmental Project” and later, during lunch, Judy Pasternak, author of “Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land and a the Betrayal of the Navajos.”

Tomorrow we can look forward to our lunch time speaker, Dr. Stephanie Malin, author of “The Price of Nuclear Power: Uranium Communities and Environmental Justice” and her talk titled, “Do Booms and Busts Create Injustice? Legacies of Colorado’s Uranium and Oil and Gas Industries in Colorado.” I hope that we can walk away from their presentations with an expanded look and perhaps a new perspective when we think of LTS.

As you hear stories and presentations over the next few days, I charge each of you to listen with a collaborative spirit. Ask yourself, “How could X be applied to this site?” Could this person or organization provide support to Y problem? Could my organization provide ideas to Z problem this person is facing?” We are all in this together and our respective missions cannot be completed without the support and collaboration of each other. As I stressed earlier, I encourage all of you to take advantage of this opportunity to network, collaborate, and share technical information on addressing LTS.

I believe we can only be as successful as our colleagues’ success. I also believe collaboration with other government agencies, tribal nations, nonprofit organization, community organizations, and the public, will vastly improve our ability to achieve our LTS goals and objectives. I embrace all our stakeholders, and I urge all of you in the audience today to complete your mission with collaboration in mind. I encourage all of you to provide opportunities for meaningful involvement in the work you do, including engagement with the Office of Legacy Management. We want to hear from you.

Before I leave you, I want to share with you a few truths I had time to learn and reflect on earlier this summer:

Back on this day in 1951, the U.S. ordered the construction of the first nuclear powered submarine. The same power used in the atomic bombs during the Second World War was ordered to be harnessed for an alternative energy source. Why is war more of a better motivator than peace? And why has it taken war to produce alternatives for problems that exist in peacetime, like electricity shortages and cancer treatment? Although I have seen fog, fire, and rain in the middle of wars, I did not come here today with answers to those questions. I came here to urge you to renew the search for answers in a spirit of trust and collaboration as we look after the LTS of the atomic age legacy.

The atomic age and its legacy messes with our heads and plays to our guts. Everybody has a view for or against radiation; it’s energy in motion, invisible, odorless, and untouchable. The power of science and the ingenuity of engineering to control the atom seems to have unleashed irrationality in us. Pro-atomic people profess the technological advancements and benefits, while the anti-atomic people attack the mainstream science and engineering of radiological risk with the same antagonism and disregard for verity as skeptics attacking the science of geological and environmental change.

I can understand why there is mistrust—it’s because of our past. There was a callous lack of frankness with the public about what was going on at atomic sites worldwide. Many actions undermined confidence. Some people doubt whether the containments for radioactive materials beneath the rocks and vegetation covered structures will hold for as long as needed to protect human health and the environment. All I can say is we wouldn’t go through such a long, intense, and costly remediation and long-term surveillance and maintenance process at our sites if we did not believe it was safe for us, for our families, and for the public. In the same context, we need to be careful to not seem like we trivialize radiation and further increase suspicion of LTS activities; hence the reason for maintaining engineered controls, institutional controls, and a public education and outreach.

For those of us in the environmental and atomic LTS community of interest and practice, it’s about fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders, it’s about giving capacity and allowing people a way to verify the truth of what they are being told, and it’s about establishing and maintaining trust and collaboration.

I strongly believe that caring is a competitive advantage and we care a lot about meeting our mission. All of us have the necessary empathy, expertise, commitment, and transparency to continue working in a collaborative manner for the benefit of generations; as my native brothers and sisters taught me, for the benefit of the Seventh Generation to come.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I look forward to this week, meeting with you and learning others’ experiences in this evolving field. I’d like to take a moment to thank the Conference Planning Committee who diligently worked over the past year to ensure the success of this conference. Planning a conference with multiple tracks and many moving pieces is no small feat.

As I tell my teammates: be safe, execute the mission, and take care of each other. Thank you.