WASHINGTON -- Cleaning up environmental damage from the nation's nuclear weapons program will cost between $168 billion and $212 billion -- up to 44 percent more than the Energy Department estimated two years ago, a new agency report says.
There are 113 sites nationwide. Seventeen will take as much as a decade longer to clean up, while the department hopes to finish work at five sites more quickly than earlier forecast, according to the report.
DOE officials say the changes in cost and time occurred because they now have a better handle on the scope of the contamination and what is required to clean up the sites.
''The numbers this year were more accurate and realistic. That was the difference,'' department spokesman Tom Welch said Wednesday.
The current and former nuclear weapons sites include some of the most highly radioactive areas in the country -- Hanford in Washington state, Savannah River in South Carolina, Rocky Flats near Denver and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.
DOE is responsible for cleaning up 1.7 trillion gallons of contaminated groundwater, 100 million gallons of highly radioactive liquid, 2,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and 18 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium at the sites.
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