Cleaning up contamination, disposing of radioactive wastes and upgrading the nation's nuclear weapons plants could cost more than $130 billion, according to preliminary congressional estimates released this this week.
And the U.S. General Accounting Office figures indicated that the price tag could jump by an additional $25 billion if production is expanded and capacity relocated.The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said problems at the plants include the need for upgrades to meet defense needs and to ensure safe operation, the cleanup of contamination and the disposal of radioactive waste.
"Current data indicate that it will cost anywhere from about $100 billion to over $130 billion to address these problem areas," the GAO concluded. "Further, expanded production capabilities and relocation of facilities could add $15 billion to $25 billion to the overall cost."
The report, which was requested by Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, comes on the heels of cost estimates compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy and released July 1. The department said cleaning up contamination and correcting other problems at 17 major defense plants could cost between $40 billion and $70 billion, and jump to as high as $110 billion in order to maintain standards through the year 2045.
The plants, scattered across the country, produce nuclear materials and weapons for U.S. defense needs.
The GAO report said some of the plants have deteriorated to the point where they have safety or operational problems. Conditions of many facilities were rated below average for the industry, with reactors at the Savannah River plant in South Carolina given the lowest rating - less than marginal, the GAO said.
Rated as "marginal," in need of constant attention, were a number of buildings at the Rocky Flats plant in Colorado, some operations at the Feed Materials Production Center near Fernald, Ohio, and the Y-12 plant in Tennessee, and a key operation at the F-Area separation facility at Savannah River.
The GAO said groundwater at most of the sites is contaminated to some degree. On-site groundwater contamination at some plants is hundreds or thousand of times above drinking water standards and at others has spread off-site or into rivers, it said.
The GAO estimated it will cost about $35 billion to more than $65 billion for environmental restoration at the sites. And government data indicates the eventual cost of safely disposing of radioactive wastes and decontaminating plants could easily exceed $45 billion.
GAO cost estimates for upgrades include $785 million for reactors at Savannah River, $1.5 billion for Rocky Flats, $920 million for portions of the F-Area separation facility, $600 million for Fernald and possibly more than $1 billion for the Y-12 plant.