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Radioactive Contamination at Clean-Up Sites

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This site provides an overview of how sites contaminated with radiation are managed in the U.S.

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Over 1,000 United States locations, including both operational and abandoned sites, are contaminated with radiation. These sites range in size from small corners in laboratories to massive nuclear weapons facilities. The contamination may be found in the air, water, and soil, as well as equipment and buildings. These sites are closely monitored to prevent unnecessary exposure of the public.

From the location to the type of radiation, every clean-up site is different. The vast majority of sites pose hazards only to the people using them. Radiation levels in the air, water, and soil around these sites are closely monitored. In case of accidental spills or release of radioactive materials, clean-up response teams use modern technologies to assess the situation and take appropriate actions to limit potential hazards to people and the environment.

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Who is protecting you

For many contaminated sites, clean-up programs have already been established. The following is an overview of the major clean-up programs in the US:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)


Superfund is the Federal government's program to identify uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, tests the conditions of the sites, formulates clean-up plans, and cleans up the sites. Under the Superfund program, abandoned, accidentally spilled, or illegally dumped hazardous waste that pose a current or future threat to human health or the environment are cleaned up.

Superfund maintains the National Priority List of chemically and radiologically contaminated sites in the United States. You can find a listing of the long-term remedial sites at the National Priorities List Sites.

U.S. Department of Defense(DoD)

Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP)

DERP was established in 1984 to promote and coordinate evaluation and clean-up of contamination at DoD installations. The program includes the Installation Restoration Program (IRP), which identifies, investigates, and restores potential contamination at DoD installations and former properties. Sites that pose the greatest potential public health and environmental hazards are given highest priority.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP)

The FUSRAP program was initiated in 1974 by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the predecessor of the U.S. DOE. The purpose of this program is to identify and evaluate sites that were previously used by the AEC or its predecessor, the Manhattan Engineering District (MED). If necessary, the program decontaminates the sites to meet current standards, or controls the site to ensures the public are protected from unnecessary exposure. DOE also works with EPA’s Superfund program to clean up DOE facilities.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP)

USACE assumed primary responsibility from DOE in 1997 to manage the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, which addresses radioactive contamination at sites used or owned by DOE (including DOE predecessor agencies) and DoD.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Program (UMTRAP)

The Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA) of 1978 authorizes DOE to clean-up inactive uranium processing sites. The goal of the program is to stabilize and control uranium mill tailing piles and other residual radioactive materials to minimize radiation health hazards.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

Site Decommissioning Management Plan (SDMP)

The former Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have terminated approximately 33,000 radioactive material licenses during the past four decades. Most facilities do not contain significant amounts of radioactive contamination and do not require radiation clean-up; however, EPA does require clean-up of other toxic materials. As part of the process, licensees must decontaminate and decommission their facilities to allow for unrestricted future use. Depending on the type of site, NRC or state inspectors examine the site to verify removal of contamination before a license is terminated.

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What you can do to protect yourself

Be Informed

Information is the best tool in keeping yourself safe. Knowing about local clean-up sites in your area can help you understand the activities that government agencies are taking to keep you safe. Information also provides you with a greater understanding of protective actions that you should take, if any, regarding your local site.

Respect Safety Zones

Safety zones are often established around contaminated sites. These zones limit public access to hazardous materials that may cause adverse health effects. The people working inside of the safety zone are trained professionals who are educated in safety procedures and potential consequences.

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Safety First
March 19, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
This page provides an overview on how to stay safe around a contaminated site.
Superfund Community Involvement
March 19, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This page discusses how Superfund reaches out to involve the community in the clean up and future planning of a site.
Cleanup Process
March 19, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This site provides links that define the steps the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program takes to clean up contaminated sites.
Cleaning Up Radioactive Sites
March 19, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This page provides information on the major radiation cleanup programs in the United States.
Cleanup: Technologies & Tools
March 19, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This lists links to information on cleaning up sites contaminated with radioactive material.
Environmental Response Team
March 19, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This site discusses the Environmental Response Team’s capabilities for cleaning up sites contaminated with radioactive materials.
Environmental Management
March 19, 2012. U.S. Department of Energy
This site provides information on the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management which manages the risks and hazards posed by nuclear weapons production and research.

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