Agency gets rebuked

  Since the late 1980s, scientists have known that more than 100 federal nuclear sites, over half of which lie in the West, will remain toxic forever. The problem is how to manage these former bomb sites for thousands of years.

Though the Department of Energy commissioned a National Academy of Sciences study over two years ago and has since established an office to oversee old nuclear areas, the academy's recent report says the DOE still doesn't know how it should do the job.

The technology currently available for containing, monitoring and cleaning-up sites is of "doubtful technical effectiveness," according to the academy's Long-Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites.

"We are trying to make sure that these long-term problems don't slip out of the DOE's control," says Shlomo Neuman, a University of Arizona professor who worked on the report.

Groundwater contamination is widespread around nuclear sites and could pose a public health problem if not properly monitored, says Mary English, vice-chair of the report committee. A senior Department of Energy official says the department is working on a plan.

The 191-page report is available on the Web at 030907181X/html/1.html.

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