The Cost to Clean Up America’s Cold War Nuclear Waste Jumps to $377 Billion via Popular Mechanics


The bill for a half century of nuclear weapons production is growing fast.

The United States developed and built tens of thousands of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. A new report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates the total cleanup cost for the radioactive contamination incurred developing and producing these weapons at a staggering $377 billion, a number that jumped by more than $100 billion in just one year.

Most people think of the U.S. Department of Energy and think of oil rigs, coal mines, solar energy panels, and wind farms. While the DoE does handle energy production—including nuclear power—it also handles the destructive side of nuclear energy. A large part of the DoE’s portfolio over the past several decades has been the handling of nuclear weapons research, development, and production. The DoE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for cleaning up radioactive and hazardous waste left over from nuclear weapons production and energy research at DoE facilities.


Cleanup began in 1989, and the Office of Environmental Management has completed cleanup at 91 of 107 nuclear sites, Still, according to the GAO “but 16 remain, some of which are the most challenging to address.” Those sites include Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, the Hanford site in Washington, and the Nevada National Security Site.

The Department of Energy’s cleanup responsibilities are a tall order and include, “(1) storing and treating about 90 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste located in nearly 240 large underground tanks at three sites across the country; (2) remediating millions of cubic meters of soil and more than 1 billion gallons of groundwater; (3) preparing and disposing of 2,400 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and about 21 metric tons of surplus highly enriched uranium materials; and (4) deactivating and decommissioning about 1,700 excess facilities, some of which are highly contaminated.”


The Department of Energy’s job cleaning up nuclear waste is underfunded and will take decades more to complete. The Hanford site for, example, needs $4 billion a year to hit cleanup milestones but is only receiving $2.5 billion. What’s more, if arms control treaties continue to unravel the U.S. could act to boost its nuclear stockpile, adding to the DoE’s environmental woes.

Read the GAO report here (PDF).

Read more at The Cost to Clean Up America’s Cold War Nuclear Waste Jumps to $377 Billion

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