Idaho State Journal
Idaho State Journal

Guest Opinion

Thursday, November 30, 2000

Time to put money into science programs

Bill Shipp
For over half a century, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory workers have contributed to America's nuclear and energy missions. Today, the INEEL is applying science and engineering technology to support the nation's environmental cleanup, energy, nuclear technology and national security needs. As the INEEL cleanup proceeds, we always ask ourselves: "Is the work we're doing based on sound science?"
We must answer this question because the nation can't afford NOT to have the most proven scientific research behind every cleanup decision we make. Although the country is experiencing a budget surplus, the extra money starts looking less and less significant when the costs of cleaning up Idaho and the rest of the nation are considered. The latest available projections suggest it will take as much as $200 billion to manage national environmental cleanup activities between now and the year 2070. Estimates indicate about $21 billion of that amount will be needed in Idaho.
Applying the best available science to environmental challenges in the beginning can ultimately save taxpayers' dollars. Science does make a difference. As an example, we formerly relied on a dated pump-and-treat technology to remove an industrial solvent from the groundwater beneath one of our facilities. Thanks to the work of INEEL researchers, we found a way to use naturally occurring micro-organisms to do the cleanup work far more effectively.
And thanks to solid scientific research, we found a way to stop the migration of organic vapors toward the Snake River Plain aquifer. Rather than dig up and box the contaminated soil, we developed a system to vacuum out the vapors so they can be treated aboveground, a cheaper and more efficient method. These are real examples of how breakthrough science and engineering research can make our cleanup dollars stretch farther.
Another way to get the best science we can is through our partnership with the state's system of higher education. We recently entered into multi-million-dollar agreements with all three of Idaho's universities to help us develop a better understanding of Idaho's subsurface and how materials move through and interact with various soil types.
We need to know more. How do contaminants move? What gets absorbed, what passes through and why? Can we get better images of exactly how far a substance has migrated underground? These are also environmental questions facing many other Idaho communities, industries and whole segments of our economy. The answers we develop to these and related questions from the INEEL will help us continue to make far more informed waste management and cleanup decisions.
Over the next year, doctoral and post-doctoral researchers at Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University will work together with their peers at the INEEL on many crucial projects. The knowledge developed will help guide ongoing and future cleanup at the laboratory. And what we learn at the INEEL will have applications for
other Idaho industries, such as agriculture, mining and subsurface water protection efforts.
Additional science research is provided through our partnerships with other DOE laboratories and sites across the country. We're setting up effective teams to solve problems, and we're continuing to collaborate with other federal agencies, universities, private companies and foreign organizations.
Whether planning for specific INEEL cleanup or addressing broad multi-industry environmental issues, we, as taxpayers, must insist that solid and well-tested science serve as the foundation of our state and national cleanup and policy decisions. Science is a sound investment.
Bill Shipp is Laboratory Director for the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and is the Science and Technology Advisor to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.