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‘Big and bold action’ needed from next DOE cleanup boss, say advocates

July 13, 2021
Aiken Standard

By Colin Demarest

An alliance of more than 30 organizations in a Monday letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm stressed that the next leader of the Energy Department’s nuclear cleanup office must be dedicated to environmental justice and be capable of making real progress.

The status quo at Environmental Management “will not get the job done,” the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability board president, Marylia Kelley, wrote, and “big and bold action is needed” at the uppermost levels.

“It is critical that the person who holds this office” – the assistant secretary for Environmental Management – “have a deep, genuine, and effective commitment to remedying the damage done to affected communities living near the highly contaminated sites of the DOE nuclear complex,” Kelley continued.

Environmental Management was organized decades ago to address the legacy of nuclear weapons development and other government-sponsored energy research: radioactive wastes, contaminated buildings, polluted swaths of land. Environmental Management oversees the Savannah River Site, the 310-square-mile reserve south of Aiken where plutonium was once produced.

The assistant secretary for Environmental Management – often referred to as “EM-1” – is a Senate-confirmed position. The post is currently held, in an acting capacity, by William “Ike” White, who previously served at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Energy Department’s environmental liability totals more than $500 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog. The vast majority of that figure – some $406 billion in fiscal year 2020 – falls under Environmental Management.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in its letter this week warned that failing to “achieve genuine cleanup” jeopardizes the well-being of workers, the public and the broader environment. (The radioactive waste at the Savannah River Site has been described as South Carolina’s single largest environmental threat.)

“ANA looks forward to working with DOE, states, tribes, and others to address this very difficult, but essential, effort to bring about a cleaner, more just, future for our communities,” wrote Kelley, who is also the executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, a California-based monitor.

Environmental Management has remediated dozens of sites to date, stretching from coast to coast.

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