Risk valuation of ecological resources at contaminated deactivation and decommissioning facilities: methodology and a case study at the Department of Energy’s Hanford site

  • Joanna BurgerEmail author
  • Michael Gochfeld
  • Christian Jeitner


Many countries are faced with monumental cleanup tasks remaining from World War II and the Cold War and consistent methodologies are essential to assess the risk from pollutants and the risk from cleanup. In the USA, the Department of Energy (DOE), and other federal and state agencies need to be able to rapidly evaluate the risk to ecological resources for remediation projects. While ecological risk assessments for radionuclides and other contaminants can be performed for different species, evaluations of species assemblages, communities, and ecosystems is more difficult. We summarize an evaluation method for ecological resources on individual remediation units that will allow comparison among a large number of units and that can be modified and applied to the DOE complex-wide. We evaluated the deactivation and decommissioning (D & D) facilities at the Hanford site as case studies. Remediation of these sites has the potential to provide harm to, or increase the value of, ecological resources during and after the process. The evaluation method includes three categories: (1) general steps, (2) ecological descriptions, and (3) ecological ratings. The general steps include identifying the categories of resources (level of resource value), identifying the units to be evaluated (e.g., remediation units), identifying a reasonable ecological buffer around the evaluation units, identifying the remediation options (from milestones or other agreements), and developing a rating scale. Ecological descriptions include identifying previous ecological values of specific areas on the evaluation unit, conducting field studies to assess the current conditions, and summarizing the percent of each resource value on the evaluation unit and buffer area. The ecological risk of harm is determined by using the rating scale to evaluate the potential harm to the ecological (and eco-cultural) resources on each evaluation unit currently, during remediation, and in the post-remediation phase. Currently, the risks (potential harm) to ecological resources on the D & D facilities at the Hanford site are non-discernible, but they increase to very high (for reactors) during remediation when there is physical disruption, increased traffic and personnel, and possible increased contamination. Following remediation, the potential harm to ecological resources is low, and the value may be increased due to restoration of native vegetation on sites that were largely industrial prior to remediation. These methods provide managers, regulators, tribes, and the general public with assurance that ecological and eco-cultural resources and the environment are being protected during and following remediation.


Valuation ecological resources Plant communities Polluted sites Contaminated sites Contaminated demolition sites Nuclear facilities 



The authors acknowledge the help of other members of CRESP and PNNL for valuable discussions about risk, exposure assessments, and ecological evaluations, including A. Bunn, D. Kosson, L. Bliss, K. Browne, J. Salisbury, J. Clarke, E. Golovich, and K Hand.

Funding information

This research was funded by the Consortium for Risk Evaluation through the Department of Energy (DE-FC01-95EW55084). PNNL’s funding was provided by the US Department of Energy Office of River Protection and Richland Operations Office. PNNL is operated by Battelle Memorial Institute for the US Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC05-76RL01830.


  1. Azerrad, J. M., Divens, K. A., Livingston, M. F., Teske, M. S., Ferguson, H. L., & Davis, J. L. (2011). Site-specific management: how to avoid and minimize impacts of development to shrub-steppe. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington. Accessed 11 Feb 2018.
  2. Becker, J. M., & Chamness, M. A. (2012). Annual ecological survey: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Site, PNNL-21164. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA. Available: Accessed 11 Feb 2018.
  3. Bingham, G., Bishop, R., Brody, M., Bromley, D., Clark, E. T., Cooper, W., Costanza, R., Hale, T., Hayden, G., Kellert, S., & Norgaard, R. (1995). Issues in ecosystem valuation: Improving information for decision making. Ecological Economics, 14, 73–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bohnee, G., Mathews, J. P., Pinkham, J., Smith, A., & Stanfill, J. (2011). Nez Perce involvement with solving environmental problems: history, perspectives, treaty rights, and obligations. In J. Burger (Ed.), Stakeholders and scientists: achieving implementable solutions to energy and environmental issues (pp. 149–184). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boiko, P. E., Morrill, R. L., Flynn, J., Faustman, E. M., van Belle, G., & Omen, G. S. (1996). Who holds the stakes? A case study of stakeholder identification at two nuclear weapons sites. Risk Analysis, 16, 237–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bottom, D. L., Simenstad, C. A., Burke, J., Baptista, A. M., Jay, D. A., Jones, K. K., Casillas, E., & Schiewe, M. H. (2005). Salmon at rivers’s end: the role of the estuary in the decline and recovery of Columbia River Salmon. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-68. Seattle, Washington.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, K. S. (1998). The great DOE land rush. Science, 282, 616–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burger, J. (2002). Incorporating ecology and ecological risk into long-term stewardship on contaminated sites. Remediation Journal, 13, 107–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burger, J. (2011). Stakeholders and scientists: achieving implementable solutions to energy and environmental issues. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burger, J., Carletta, M. A., Lowrie, K., Miller, K. T., & Greenberg, M. (2004). Assessing ecological resources for remediation and future land uses on contaminated lands. Environmental Management, 34, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., & Powers, C. W. (2007). Integrating long-term stewardship goals into the remediation process: natural resource damages and the Department of Energy. Journal of Environmental Management, 82, 189–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Pletnikoff, K., Snigaroff, R., Snigaroff, D., & Stamm, T. (2008). Ecocultural attributes: evaluating ecological degradation in terms of ecological goods and services versus subsistence and tribal values. Risk Analysis, 28, 1261–1272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burger, J., Harris, S., Harper, B., & Gochfeld, M. (2010). Ecological information needs for environmental justice. Risk Analysis, 30, 893–905.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Powers, C. W., Brown, K., & Clarke, J. (2015). Using salmon as a bioindicator of the health of the Columbia River at Hanford. Waste Management Symposium, Phoenix, AZ, March 15-19, 2015.Google Scholar
  15. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Bunn, A., Downs, J., Jeitner, C., Pittfield, T., & Salisbury, J. (2016a). Application of field evaluations of ecological resources at Hanford and other DOE sites for consistency of resources and sustainability. Waste Management Symposium, Phoenix, Arizona. March 6–10, 2016.Google Scholar
  16. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Bunn, A., Downs, J., Jeitner, C., Pittfield, T., & Salisbury, J. (2016b). Functional remediation components: a conceptual method of evaluating the effects of remediation on risks to ecological receptors. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 79, 957–968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Bunn, A., Downs, J., Jeitner, C., Pittfield, T., Salisbury, J., & Kosson, D. (2017a). A methodology to evaluate ecological resources and risk using two case studies at the Department of Energy’s Hanford site. Environmental Management, 59, 357–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Bunn, A., Downs, J., Kosson, D., Pittfield, T., Jeitner, C., & Salisbury, J. (2017b). Ecological resource value, remediation options, and impacts: functional remediation at Hanford Site. Waste Management Symposium, Phoenix, Az 17: 14 pgs.Google Scholar
  19. Butler, V. L., & O’Connor, J. E. (2004). 9000 years of salmon fishing on the Columbia River, North America. Quartenary Research, 62, 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cappupyns, V. (2016). Inclusion of social indicators in decision support tools for the selection of sustainable site remediation options. Journal of Environmental Management, 184, 45–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) (2013). We are salmon people CRITFC.
  22. Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP). (2015). Final methodology for the Hanford site-wide risk review project. Nashville: CRESP, Vanderbilt University Accessed 11 Feb 2018.Google Scholar
  23. Costanza, R., d'Arge, R., Limburg, K., Grasso, M., de Groot, R., Faber, S., O'Neill, R. V., Van den Belt, M., Paruelo, J., Raskin, R. G., & Hannon, B. (1997). The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature, 387, 253–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Costanza, R. R., d Groot, R., Sutton, P., van der Ploeg, S., Anderson, S. J., Kubiszewski, I., Farber, S., & Turner, R. K. (2014). Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change, 26, 152–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Crowley, K. D., & Ahearn, J. F. (2002). Managing the environmental legacy of U.S. nuclear-weapons production. American Science, 90, 514–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dale, V. H., & Parr, P. D. (1998). Preserving DOE’s research parks. Issues in Science & Technology, 14, 73–77.Google Scholar
  27. Dauble, D. D., & Watson, D. G. (1997). Status of fall Chinook salmon populations in the mid-Columbia River, 1948-1992. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 17, 283–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Department of Energy (DOE). (1994a). Stewards of a national resources. Washington: Department of Energy, Office of Energy Research.Google Scholar
  29. Department of Energy (DOE). (1994b). National Environmental Research Parks. Washington: Department of Energy, Office of Energy Research, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  30. Department of Energy (DOE) (2000). Status report on paths to closure. DOE/EM-0526 Washington, DC: Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management. Available at:
  31. Department of Energy (DOE) (2001a). Hanford Site biological resources management plan, Appendix D: Hanford’s biological resources: geographic information system-based resource maps, species of concern data tables, and their technical basis. DOE/RL 96–32. Richland, WA: Department of Energy, Richland Operations The Office.Google Scholar
  32. Department of Energy (DOE) (2001b). DOE/RL 96-32. Hanford site biological resources management plan, Appendix C: Hanford biological resources in a regional context. Department of Energy, Richland Operations Office, Richland, WA.Google Scholar
  33. Department of Energy (DOE). (2002). A review of the environmental management program. Washington, D.C: Department of energy, Office of Environmental Management.Google Scholar
  34. Department of Energy (DOE). (2012). Environmental assessment: integrated vegetation management on the Hanford Site. Richland: DOE, Richland Operations Office.Google Scholar
  35. Department of Energy (DOE) (2013a) Hanford Site biological resources management plan, Revision 0. DOE/RL-96-32. Richland, WA: Department of Energy, Richland Operations Office. Available at: Accessed 11 Mar 2018.
  36. Department of Energy (DOE) (2013b). Ecological monitoring. monitoring. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.Google Scholar
  37. Department of Energy (DOE) (2017) 2017 year in review: outline of EM’s cleanup achievements.
  38. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017a). 324 building. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  39. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017b). K-reactors. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  40. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017c). Surplus reactors final disposition engineering evaluation. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  41. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017d). Fast flux test facility. area_fftf. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  42. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017e). Plutonium uranium extraction plant. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  43. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017f). B plant. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  44. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017g). Plutonium uranium extraction plant. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  45. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017h). Reduction-oxidation plant. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  46. Department of Energy (DOE-RL) (2017i). Plutonium finishing plant. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  47. Downs, J. L., Rickard, W. H., & Brandt, C. A. (1993). Habitat types on the Hanford site: wildlife and plant species of concern. Richland: PNL-8942, UC-702. Pacific Northwest national Laboratory.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Duncan, J. P., Burk, K. W., Chamness, M. A., Fowler, R. A., Fritz, B. G., Hendrickson, P. L., Kennedy, E. P., Last, G. L., Poston, T. M., & Sackschewsk, M. R. (2007). Hanford Site National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) characterization. Richland: PNNL-6415. Rev. 18, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Evans, J. R., Lih, M. P., Dunwiddie, P. W., Caplow, F. E., Easterly, R., Landholt, P. J., McIntosh, T. T., Meisel, J. K., Newell, R. L., & Nugent, J. J. (2003). Biodiversity studies of the Hanford site (pp. 2002–2003). Seattle: The Nature Conservancy.Google Scholar
  50. Fahrig, L. (2003). Effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity. Annual Review of Ecology and Evolutionary Systematics, 34, 487–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Fischer, J., & Lindenmayer, D. B. (2007). Landscape modification and habitat fragmentation: a synthesis. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 16, 265–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Fulton, LA. (1968). Spawning areas and abundance of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the Columbia River basin—past and present. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Special Scientific Report, Fisheries No. 571, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  53. Greenberg, M., & Lowrie, K. (2001). A proposed model for community participation and risk communication for a DOE-led stewardship program. Federal Facilities Environmental Journal Spring, 2001, 125–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Harper, B. L., & Harris, S. G. (2008). A possible approach for setting a mercury risk-based action level based on tribal fish ingestion rates. Environmental Research, 107, 60–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Landeen, D., & Pinkham, A. (1999). Salmon and his people. Lewiston: Confluence Press.Google Scholar
  56. Leitao, A. B., & Ahern, J. (2002). Applying landscape ecological concepts and metrics in sustainable landscape planning. Landscape and Urban Planning, 59, 65–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lucas, J. G. (2011). Use of underground facilities by bats at the Hanford site in shrub-steppe habitats in Washington. MS thesis, Washington State University, Pullman, WA.Google Scholar
  58. McAllister, C., Beckert, H., Abrams, C., Bilyard, G., Cadwell, K., Friant, S., Glantz, C., Maziaka, R., & Miller, K. (1996). Survey of ecological resources at selected U.S. Department of Energy sites. DOE/EH-0534. Pacific northwest National Laboratory, Richland Washington. Available: Accessed 11 Feb 2018.Google Scholar
  59. National Research Council (NRC). (1983). Risk assessment in the federal government. Washington: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  60. National Research Council (NRC). (1993). Issues in risk assessment. Washington D.C: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  61. National Research Council (NRC). (1995). Improving the environment: an evaluation of DOE’s environmental management program. Washington D.C: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  62. National Research Council (NRC). (1996). Upstream: salmon and society in the Pacific Northwest. Washington: National Research Council.Google Scholar
  63. National Research Council (NRC). (2000). Long-term institutional management of US Department of Energy legacy waste sites. National Academy Press, Washington D.C.Google Scholar
  64. Nez Perce Tribe. (2003). Treaties: Nez Perce perspectives. Richland: US DOE and Confluence Press.Google Scholar
  65. Omernik, J. M. (2004). Perspectives on the nature and definition of ecological regions. Environmental Management, 34, 527–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Opperman, J. J., Apse, C., Ayer, F., Banks, J., Day, L. R., Royte, J., & Seebach, J. (2011). Hydropower, salmon and the Penobscot River (Maine, USA): pursuing improved environment and energy outcomes through participatory decision-making and basin-scale decision context. In J. Burger (Ed.), Stakeholders and scientists: achieving implementable solutions to energy and environmental issues (pp. 311–336). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Oregon Biodiversity Information Center (OBIC). (2013). Rare, threatened, and endangered species of Oregon. Portland: Institute of Natural Resources, Portland State University 111 pgs.Google Scholar
  68. Pak, R., Houston, D., Potter, R. F. (2000). D & D of Hanford’s retired production reactors: an opportunity to demonstrate best commercial procurement practices. Waste management symposium, 2000, Tucson, AZ.Google Scholar
  69. Rodrick, E., & Milner, R. (1991). Management recommendations for Washington’s priority habitats and species. Olympia: Washington Department of Wildlife Available Scholar
  70. Sackschewsky, M. R., & Downs, J. L. (2001). Vascular plants of the Hanford site. Richland: PNNL-13688, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.Google Scholar
  71. Soll, J., Hall, J., Pabst, R., & Soper, C. (1999). Biodiversity inventory and analysis of the Hanford site—final report 1994–1999. Seattle: The Nature Conservancy of Washington.Google Scholar
  72. Turner, M. G., & Gardner, R. H. (2015). Landscape ecology in theory and practice: pattern and process. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (2008). Hanford reach national monument: comprehensive conservation plan and environmental impact statement. U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service. 2008 Available: Accessed 16 Feb 2018.
  74. United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (2014). Rare, threatened, or endangered species: Hanford reach. Accessed 16 Feb 2018.Google Scholar
  75. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) (2008). Washington State Priority Habitats and Species List. Olympia Washington. 174 pp. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  76. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) (2014) Species of concern in Washington. Accessed 13 Feb 2018.
  77. Washington Noxious Weed Control Board (WNWCB) (2014). Noxious weed list. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  78. Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WSDNR) (2014). Washington natural heritage program plant ranks. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.
  79. Whicker, F., Hinton, T., MacDonnell, M., Pinder III, J., & Haberger, L. (2004). Avoiding destructive remediation at DOE sites. Science, 303, 1615–1616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Williams, R. N. (2006). Return to the river: restoring salmon to the Columbia River. New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Life SciencesRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  2. 2.Environmental and Occupational MedicineRutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical SchoolPiscatawayUSA

Personalised recommendations