During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, work was performed at sites throughout the United States as part of the nation's early atomic energy program. Some sites' activities can be traced back as far as World War II and the Manhattan Engineer District (MED); other sites were involved in peacetime activities under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Both MED and AEC were predecessors of DOE.
Most sites that became contaminated during the early atomic energy program were cleaned up under the guidelines in effect at the time. Because in most cases those cleanup guidelines were not as strict as today's, trace amounts of radioactive materials remained at some of the sites. Over the years, contamination was spread to other locations, either by demolition of buildings, intentional movement of materials, or by natural processes.
DOE began FUSRAP in 1974 to study these sites and take appropriate cleanup action. When a site is thought to be contaminated, old records are reviewed and the site is surveyed. If contamination is found that is connected to MED or AEC activities, cleanup is authorized under FUSRAP. Some sites with industrial contamination similar to that produced by MED or AEC activities have also been added to FUSRAP by Congress. The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1998 (FY98) P.L. 105-62, signed into law on October 13, 1997, transferred responsibility for the administration and execution of the FUSRAP from the U.S. Department of Energy to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The contaminants are primarily low levels of uranium, thorium, and radium, with their associated decay products. Mixed wastes are also present. DOE had identified 46 sites in their program. None of these sites pose an immediate threat to human health or the environment. At the time of enactment of P.L. 105-62, according to DOE, remediation was completed at 24 sites with some ongoing operation maintenance and monitoring being undertaken by DOE. Remedial action was planned, underway or pending final closeout at the remaining 22 sites.