Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

The Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) is responsible for cleaning up radioactive waste and environmental contamination resulting from five decades of nuclear weapons production and testing that are stored at over 100 sites across the United States. A major focus of this program involves the retrieval and processing of stored waste to reduce its volume and incorporate it into suitable waste forms to facilitate safe handling and disposal. Waste forms immobilize radioactive and hazardous constituents of wastes in a stable, solid matrix. This report was produced to assist DOE in making decisions for improving current methods for processing radioactive wastes and for selecting and fabricating waste forms for disposal.

The ultimate goal of DOE-EM is to protect human health; therefore, the report concludes that waste form development and selection decisions are best made in a risk-informed, systems context that considers: how the waste form will be produced; in what disposal environment it will be emplaced; and how the waste form will function with other barriers in the multi-barrier disposal system to protect public health. Because the scheduled cleanup program will not be completed for several decades, there is time for DOE-EM to use the many recent advances in waste form science and technology to guide future waste form selection decisions.

Identifying, developing, and utilizing state-of-the-art science and technology on waste forms will require that DOE: actively engage with governmental, academic, and industrial organizations that are researching, developing, and implementing these technologies; develop and/or expand intellectual capital, both within DOE-EM and in external contractor staff, to identify and transfer this knowledge and technology into the cleanup program; have access to appropriate resources.