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During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear stockpile reached more than 30,000 nuclear weapons. Research and production of these weapons resulted in large volumes of nuclear waste—some of the most dangerous materials known to mankind—posing significant environmental risks and challenges. “The U.S. Department of Energy has under its purview the Environmental Management program, which is responsible for cleaning up the legacy of the Cold War,” says Dr. Inés Triay, assistant secretary, Environmental Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. She leads the Office of Environment Management (EM), which is charged wit the safe and complete cleanup of the environmental legacy brought about from five decades of nuclear weapons development and government-sponsored nuclear energy research.
“We manage the largest environmental cleanup effort in the world. Originally, we had two million acres at 108 sites in 35 states. We work in very challenging environments with hazardous and dangerous material, solving some of the most complex technical problems in the environmental field today,” says Triay. She notes that her job is “to make sure that the cleanup is conducted in a safe, secure, and compliant manner. It is to make sure that we continue to be vigilant about the life cycle cost of this cleanup. This cleanup extends decades; it is my job to come up with strategic options to shorten that time frame that we’re going to need in order to ensure the effective cleanup.”