Environment: Stewardship and Prevention of Waste

DOE is committed to cleaning up the environmental legacy of its past activities (mainly from the nuclear weapons program), preventing or minimizing new waste production, and assisting in the development of energy-efficient pollution prevention technologies for transportation and industrial applications.

Most of the actual cleanup work of environmental waste sites associated with the nuclear weapons production complex is conducted by private contractors, but the National Laboratories are actively involved in the technology development work necessary to help drive down the future costs of radioactive and chemical waste clean-up. Successes include radioactive waste isolation techniques, waste-shipment standards, and the use of genetically engineered organisms that consume waste or that emit light to show researchers when, where, and at what rate waste is being consumed.

Over the years, the labs have expanded their focus on waste clean-up and prevention to include broader environmental issues, such as nutrient cycling through various ecosystems, assessment of the acid-rain cycle, and examination of the effects of different types of power plants on the environment. The laboratories have worked on a range of technologies and manufacturing processes aimed at reducing or eliminating pollutants. Major accomplishments have been made in developing environmentally conscious manufacturing techniques for semiconductor manufacturing, including the development of a technique which enables companies to completely eliminate of the use of CFCs during semiconductor manufacturing. This development alone is expected to eliminate approximately 18,000 tons per year of CFC usage by the year 2010 and decrease energy use by 1.8 trillion Btu per year by the year 2010. The further development of technologies that integrate energy, environment, and economic considerations with the goal of contributing to sustainable economic development is a growing focus for laboratory activities. The Laboratories perform about $1.2 billion in environmental research and technology development annually.

Technology Partnerships: Enhancing National Competitiveness

During the past five years, spurred in large part by Congressional legislation adopted during the 1980s which promotes technology transfer[Note 5], the National Laboratories have made considerable progress in teaming with industry in technology partnerships. During this period there has been a considerable evolution in thought about the role of the National Laboratories in contributing to economic competitiveness. Ten years ago, many in industry viewed the National Laboratories as "technology warehouses" that contained uncommercialized commodities ripe for transfer. Others saw the Laboratories as institutions that were inaccessible or had little to offer. These views often resulted in false expectations, disappointments, or missed opportunities.

Over the past several years, however, technology transfer has come to be characterized by a sophisticated set of partnerships between the Laboratories and industry, with clearly defined expectations and mutually-crafted R&D agendas. These partnerships have been growing at an unprecedented pace, with more than 1000 cooperative research and development agreements established between industry and the Laboratories during the past four years.

Through these partnerships, the Laboratories have begun to earn industry's trust, confidence, and support, and the Laboratories are acquiring new insight into the challenges faced by industry in technology maturation, product development, and manufacturability. As the next section describes, technology partnerships are not so much a mission area of the Laboratories, as they are a mode of operation. Increasingly, throughout the Laboratory system, partnerships with industry; academia; and state, local and other federal government agencies are the means of best meeting the research objectives established for the Laboratories. Through such partnerships, the expertise and resources of the Laboratories are teamed with those of other complementary institutions in a fashion that can shorten the time between basic scientific discoveries and product developments, and -- in the process -- strengthen the Nation's leadership position in economic growth, scientific advance, and technological innovation.

Science and Engineering Education and Training

The Laboratories offer a compelling environment and opportunity for helping educate and train students in science and engineering. Tens of thousands of students frequent the Laboratories annually for "hands-on" experiences that complement classroom education and contribute to the Nation's future supply of skilled scientists and technicians. The Laboratories sponsor post-doctoral fellowships and other research fellowships for hundreds of top-ranked graduate students annually, and many Laboratory personnel hold joint appointments at universities -- where they bring to their profession as educators the experiences drawn from their profession as government researchers. Through programs at all of the Laboratories, these National scientific assets are being put to use to assist in the education and training of students at the frontiers of science and technology. These facilities also have been used to help train thousands of teachers in the best techniques for presenting science and technology in the classroom.

D. How We Do It

If there is one word that best describes how the Department of Energy laboratories execute their mission assignments, it is integration -- of scientists and engineers into multi-disciplinary teams; of basic science, applied science, and technology development into a holistic approach to problem-solving; and of complementary skills and perspectives from the federal government, academia, and the private sector to the mutual benefit of all parties. And if there is a single explanation for the ability of the laboratories to achieve such integration, it lies in the breadth and depth of core technical capabilities which form the set of skills which the laboratories exercise in pursuit of their mission assignments.

Scientific Facilities and Multi-disciplinary Workforce

By virtue of several decades of investment by the Nation in the Department of Energy laboratories, these institutions currently exhibit a combination of physical and human R&D assets not duplicated anywhere in the world. The replacement value of the physical R&D assets at these laboratories exceeds $30 billion, and includes facilities such as:

These are but a few examples of the research assets housed within the Department of Energy laboratories. Yet, even a partial listing such as this speaks volumes about the capacity of these labs to probe new frontiers of science, to work with industry in new areas of technology development, and to deliver scientific and technological progress in meeting important national needs. The full inventory of the major R&D assets at these labs would comprise a very long list, but in-and-of-itself would not paint a full picture of the means by which the Department and its laboratories execute their missions. This is because the facilities themselves are of little value without the trained workforce which, in many cases, designed and built the facilities, and which now operates them in the pursuit of scientific and technological advance.

The Department of Energy laboratories support an extraordinarily broad collection of scientists and engineers, with established -- and in many cases world-class -- expertise in areas including physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, engineering, materials science, biology, earth sciences, environmental science, metallurgy, and systems engineering. No other federal laboratory system has the ingredients of such a multi-disciplinary environment as exists within the Department of Energy laboratories, which is one of the reasons why these labs represent such a distinctive national asset.

Core Technical Capabilities

The facilities and trained workforce of the Laboratories can be presented in the context of eight major core technical capabilities, which together represent generic areas of expertise which enable the Laboratories to address their missions. These core technical capabilities are:

In addition to these major areas of expertise which are characteristic of the entire Laboratory system, individual laboratories within the system also have important and unique core capabilities, such as in laser and electro-optics, sensors and instrumentation, electronics, and neutron-based science. These additional strengths supplement the total resource represented by the Laboratory system. Each of these core capabilities depends upon multi-disciplinary skills drawn from the workforce of the Laboratories. Collectively, these capabilities provide the means by which the Laboratories solve complex problems assigned by the Department; respond to new challenges and requests for assistance from other government agencies, academia, and the private sector; and generally move ideas from concept to reality -- either through the generation of experimental results or development of new technologies and operational systems.

Integrated Approaches to Problem Solving

The combination of a pervasive problem-solving culture at the Laboratories, and the broad and diverse technical skills and core capabilities resident within the Laboratories, provide the ability for these institutions to address national issues in an integrated fashion -- through multi-disciplinary teams; through integration of basic science, applied science, and technology development; and through collaborative efforts with researchers from academia, industry, and other government agencies.

The Laboratories are at their best in bringing teams together to address large, complex problems. Because the Laboratories are organized to solve problems in a fashion that is unconstrained by the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines, they have a multi-disciplinary operational approach that is distinctive from the single-discipline methodology which remains generally characteristic of academia. In addition, because many of the problems assigned to the Laboratories are of a high-risk, long-term nature, the Laboratories generally have a different orientation than found in industrial laboratories, where near-term market forces are of paramount consideration. Yet, the Laboratories, because of their unique human and physical assets, have served as a catalyst for developing teams of government, academic, and industrial researchers. In this fashion, complementary strengths of researchers from varying perspectives are brought to bear on problems of common interest. Examples of integrated approaches to problem solving include:

These examples provide a snapshot of how the Laboratories approach problem solving through a distinguishing integration of skills, capabilities, technologies, facilities, and research performers -- including partners from throughout the Laboratory system, other federal agencies, industry, academia, and around the world. The extent of coordination, integration, and engagement between the Department of Energy Laboratories and other research performers also is illustrated by the following statistics:

From fundamental and applied research, through design and development of applications, to process engineering and manufacturing support, the laboratories are an environment where all aspects of technology development and deployment are routinely addressed. The ability to integrate across the suite of capabilities at the laboratories explains why these institutions have become magnets for such a large number of academic and industrial researchers.

E. Looking to the Future in a Changing World

The nation faces major new challenges as a result of the end of the Cold War, growing concerns about U.S. economic competitiveness, the need to achieve sustainable economic growth and environmental quality, and the reality of stringent federal budgets. As a result of these forces, the national scientific and technological enterprise is experiencing perhaps its most significant transformation since the end of World War II. Industry increasingly is looking for opportunities to team with other R&D performers -- including former competitors -- in the development of new technologies; there is growing political pressure for all public investments to be tied more closely to national needs; the principles of total quality management increasingly are being applied throughout industry, including at research institutions; and the traditional boundaries between federal R&D agencies are giving way as the Nation seeks to provide multi-agency, coordinated approaches to satisfying National needs.[Note 8]

Faced with these new circumstances, the Department of Energy Laboratories are changing dramatically. The defense programs at the Laboratories are undergoing a complete transformation. Partnerships between the Laboratories and industry are growing at an unprecedented pace, far exceeding available funding. The Department has instituted new contract reform measures aimed at improving management of the Laboratories. In addition, the Laboratories are working more closely together as a system than at any time in the past and are forging strong new relationships with other government agencies. These changes all suggest a general direction for the future of the Laboratories. Although the precise research agenda will emerge and evolve with time, the focus for the Laboratories in the future will be on helping meet major National needs for which science and technology play a role. The challenges include:

The economic, environmental, national security, and scientific challenges of the 21st Century will require collective national responses which take advantage of disparate yet complementary strengths throughout society. The Department of Energy Laboratories represent one of the major national assets available to help address emerging National needs. The Laboratories are well suited to address such challenges, precisely because of the diversity and depth of their technical capabilities. The Laboratory system has served as a versatile and valuable resource to the nation in the past, with a record of accomplishments that have expanded our understanding of the world, created new fields of science and technology, established new commercial markets, and, in the case of national security contributions, determined the course of history.

In the future, after completing their most substantive change in operating method in decades, the DOE Laboratories will be important players -- teamed with industry, academia, and other government agencies -- in the Nation's concerted effort to provide a sustainable society which provides security, intellectual renewal, and prosperity for future generations. In looking forward during a time of change, the Department of Energy and its Laboratories endorse and embrace the guidance of the President:

"The challenges we face -- from our competitors abroad and from our people at home -- demand dramatic innovation and bold action that will not just revive our economy now but also ensure our economic growth well into the future. Building America's economic strength through technology demands new initiatives that confront these challenges effectively, efficiently, and creatively."

President William J. Clinton
Technology for America's Growth,
A New Direction to Build Economic Strength

Table of Contents
Next Section