United States Department of Energy (USDOE)
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (USDOE)
The United States Department of Energy (USDOE) has a broad national mission that includes oversight of energy production and distribution. It also has a major role in the production of nuclear weapons, the safe storage of nuclear wastes, and the remediation of sites that have been contaminated as a result of the nation's atom bomb production program. DOE has a strong scientific component located in the DOE National Laboratories, which support research ranging from basic biologic processes to risk assessment.
While not a frontline public health agency, DOE engages in many activities that impact human health and the environment. These include its role in the national choice of energy sources, such as the different fossil fuels that emit varying levels of sulfur oxides, particulates, and nitrogen oxide air pollutants; nuclear energy with its attendant risks; and hydroelectric power sources, which also have ecological consequences. DOE is also heavily involved in research to develop more efficient and less-polluting automobiles. Within the DOE, the Division of Environmental Management and the Division of Environment, Health, and Safety have combined annual budgets of over $6 billion, which is used to clean up the legacy of atom bomb production and to protect worker and community health.
The secrecy surrounding the atom bomb program and a series of poor decisions on the part of DOE leadership have, at times, engendered distrust of the agency by local communities, scientific groups, and by Congress. This has led to many of its nuclear regulatory functions being placed under the independent control of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its worker surveillance programs largely placed under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control. It has also led to the funding of credible university-based organizations to work with the various stakeholders, such as the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation. Compounding the issue of distrust is the public perception of grave risks associated with nuclear materials and the millennia-long halflives of many radioactive compounds. A central issue for DOE is to find ways to safely and credibly provide stewardship of radioactive wastes for future generations.
Bernard D. Goldstein