Steven Chu Blames Government Contractors For Ongoing Nuclear Waste Debacle

The United States continues to struggle with legacy military nuclear waste, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, because the contractors making billions from it have opposed a better solution.
“If you had a small R&D program that could find a much better, cost-effective way of doing it wouldn't it be worth it?” Chu asked during a Stanford University webinar last month. “Okay, $6 billion—What’s a good R&D program? Ten percent? Five percent?
“It was being nibbled down to $100,000,” he said of his effort to fund R&D during his tenure as Obama’s first energy secretary. “It’s like in the third or fourth decimal place because the contractors who had these huge grants didn’t want better ways, and they just wanted the billion per year coming to the State of Washington, going into Tennessee, going to South Carolina, literally, because it greased the economy.”
Chu’s budgets maintained a $6 billion allocation for “cleaning up hazardous, radioactive legacy waste from the Manhattan Project and the Cold War,” scuttled the Yucca Mountain Waste Depository, and sought increased funding for research into better solutions.
Chu doesn’t identify the contractors by name, but major contractors in those states include Bechtel, managing the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington; UCOR, managing cleanup at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee; and Areva, which absorbed the company that during Chu’s tenure pursued the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) designed to process waste in South Carolina.
Bechtel, Areva and UCOR’s parent company, Amentum—have extensive lobbying activities recorded in disclosure forms. The Bechtel Group also has a political action committee. I contacted all three companies and received initial replies from representatives at Bechtel and UCOR, but they have not offered comment.
Chu is a professor of physics and molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University and was president in 2020 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics and is credited by President Obama with designing on a napkin the technology that capped the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
More from Steven Chu’s appearance at Stanford:
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