Senators Seek Boost in Long-Running Nuclear Cleanup Program’s Funding

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An aerial view of the radioactive-waste dump site in Parks Township, Pa. (Photo credit: Army Corps of Engineers)

Article courtesy of  John R. Emshwiller | February 6, 2015 | Wall Street Journal | Shared as educational material

Move by Six Lawmakers Signals Growing Impatience With Decadeslong Federal Remediation Effort

A group of six U.S. Senators is pushing for a big funding increase for a program to clean up more than two dozen contaminated nuclear sites, a sign of growing impatience with a decadeslong federal remediation effort.

The letter from the senators, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, deals with the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. FUSRAP was created in 1974 to clean up certain sites involved in developing the atomic bomb and other federal nuclear efforts.

Critics have long argued that program hasn’t had sufficient funds to address the projects, some of which are located near homes and businesses. The FUSRAP program was examined in a 2013 Wall Street Journal series on the radioactive legacy of the U.S. nuclear-weapons program.

The fiscal 2015 FUSRAP budget is $101.5 million, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the program. That figure is about the same as the prior two years. In the decade before that, the average was about $145 million a year. The program currently includes 25 sites in 10 states.

The senators’ letter—written to leaders of the Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on energy and water development—said the funding cuts from earlier years have slowed cleanup work and increased risks. “The potential for exposure increases as the sites further erode and the likelihood of public health problems, like groundwater contamination, increase over time,” said the letter, which recommended FUSRAP funding of $150 million a year or higher.

A spokesman for Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“The hope is to speed up some of these nuclear cleanup projects,” said Sen. Robert Casey, one of the six Democrats with FUSRAP sites in their states, who signed the letter.

The FUSRAP site in Mr. Casey’s home state of Pennsylvania is a radioactive waste dump located in Parks Township, about 23 miles from Pittsburgh. The waste was buried at the site, known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, decades ago and came from nuclear work done locally for the U.S. government and others. Among the materials handled was weapons-grade uranium.

In a recently revised cleanup plan for the site, the Corps of Engineers raised the estimated cost to over $400 million, nearly tenfold the original level. Excavation work, halted in 2011, is expected to resume in 2017 and take up to 10 years to complete.

Write to John R. Emshwiller at john.emshwiller@wsj.com

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