Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Faces Huge Ordnance Cleanup Bill

Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Faces Huge Ordnance Cleanup Bill

Article excerpt

The unexploded ordnance on U.S. bases--which has become a liability of tens of billions of dollars for the Defense Department--is likely to turn into an even bigger problem as the Pentagon approaches a new round of base closures.

A number of technologies currently are in development to help the Defense Department expedite the cleanup process. But experts caution that the Pentagon must continue to fluid research efforts aimed at UXO removal, before the cleanup burden becomes too large to handle.

According to Raymond E Dubois, the undersecretary of defense for the environment and installations, the Defense Department his two distinct UXO problems--the operational test and training ranges, where the military conducts current operations for weapon systems development and war-fighter training; and the "munitions response areas," which include Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) installations.

"The expectation is that BRAC will increase the need for technology," said Jeff Marqusee, the director of the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP).

A possible round of base closures in 2005 will up the demand significantly for UXO removal, Marqusee told National Defense. The research, science and technology community is capable of providing new UXO-cleanup technology "when it is needed, in the next couple of years," he said.

An upcoming Defense Science Board report on unexploded ordnance estimated that the liability from UXO on already dosed ranges is $52 billion. "The projection is that, with technology, we can drop that liability to $16 billion. That is tremendous payback," said Brad Smith, the director of the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP).

While the DSB used a ballpark figure based on its own formulas, the Defense Department estimates that the cost of cleaning up UXO, discarded munitions and munitions constituents on already closed ranges would cost between $8 billion on the lowest end and $21 billion on the highest end. For operational ranges, the price ranges between $15 billion and $83 billion.

These figures appeared in the 2002 Defense Environmental Restoration Program report, the latest information available at press time.

"Those numbers are uncertain," said a source, who did not want to be quoted by name. "People get too caught up in numbers." Once the price tag readies the order of a billion, it is already huge, the source said, and solutions need to be found, no matter how many billions of dollars the estimates end up being.

The primary funders for finding UXO clean up solutions are SERDP and the ESTCP. The two programs receive their money under separate appropriations, but are managed out of a joint office. SERDP is a science and technology program, while ESTCP is a demonstration and validation program.

According to Marqusee, funding for UXO technologies varies from year to year. In fiscal year 2004, ESTCP will receive about $10 million, up from $4 million in 2003. SERDP is taking a cut in 2004, dropping from $9 million in 2003 to $8 million in 2004.

"Our expectation is that it is a one-year occurrence and that the funding will be returning in the future," said Marqusee.

Up to 90 percent of the ESTCP investment in UXO technology focuses on land contamination. Shallow water UXO detection also is starting to gain some ground, he said. "Only over the last maybe three years has it [UXO] become that big a part of the program."

Given the enormous liability, UXO cleanup has arisen as one of the top priorities for new technology, he said.

"It is going to take tens of billions of dollars, and it is not clear given the current technologies how well one can do it," Marqusee said. "If you look at where we think technology can get in five to 10 years, you can cut that by an order of magnitude and probably increase safety by an order of magnitude," he said. …

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