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Q&A: What’s Next for America’s Nuclear-Waste Clean-Up via The Wall Street Journal

The Senate and House are expected as early as this week to take up the defense authorization bill President Barack Obama vetoed last month and try to push a version of it through again.  Buried in the bill is a proposal that could dramatically re-order nuclear-weapons clean-up activities, a decades-long effort that is costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

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What is the problem?

Creating America’s nuclear arsenal left thousands of structures around the U.S. tainted with radioactive and chemical contamination.  Over the past quarter century, the Energy Department clean-up office has disposed of about 2,800 of them with a like number still to do.  However, for various reasons some of the dirtiest and most dangerous buildings aren’t yet on that clean-up list and might not be added for decades.

How many structures are in this sort of limbo?

An Energy Department inspector general’s report this year put the number at over 350.  Among them is Alpha 5 in Tennessee.  Larger than ten football fields, it produced uranium for the Hiroshima bomb but is now a decaying structure of radioactive and chemical contamination where “the speed of degradation is far outpacing” maintenance funding, said an Energy Department report.

Why aren’t these places getting addressed?

The issue, as with many things, is money. The Energy Department’s money for the weapons program and the clean-up effort come from the same the same kitty.  A quarter century ago, with the end of the Cold War, more money for the first time started flowing into clean-up than weapons.  In recent years that situation has reversed.  Plus, much of the money available to the clean-up operation is committed at various sites and there isn’t enough money to take to address some of these other buildings–even if they are more in need of attention than some of the structures being dealt with.

Read more at Q&A: What’s Next for America’s Nuclear-Waste Clean-Up

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