Better Oversight Needed for Safety and Health Activities at DOE's Nuclear Facilities

EMD-81-108: Published: Aug 4, 1981. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 1981.

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GAO was requested to determine if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or some other form of regulation would be preferable to the Department of Energy (DOE) oversight program currently in existence for safety and health matters at DOE nuclear facilities. To determine the adequacy of the DOE oversight program, GAO reviewed the four functional program areas: (1) occupational safety; (2) emergency preparedness; (3) facility design safety; and (4) environmental monitoring.

GAO found that the DOE program is not adequate to assure that the employees at the nuclear facilities are provided with safe and healthful working conditions. Radiological emergency preparedness has not received sufficient priority in DOE to ensure a level of preparedness for a serious nuclear accident. The DOE emergency preparedness program lacks the coordinated, unified approach necessary to ensure adequate protection at all DOE facilities. The effort by DOE for assuring that emergency preparedness programs are in place and working are ineffective. DOE has not fulfilled responsibilities assigned to it by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because it has failed to assign sufficient resources. In a previous report, GAO identified a number of weaknesses in the DOE emergency preparedness program which still exist. DOE is taking little action to assure that its older facilities meet current safety criteria and standards. The DOE safety analysis program, designed to provide such assurance, received relatively low priority and, as such, DOE is not aware of the level of design safety at many nuclear facilities. While the DOE operating contractors are reporting that their operations are conducted well within radiological environmental standards, the program lacks consistency from contractor to contractor and from DOE field office to field office. In addition, DOE relies virtually exclusively on the operating contractor for environmental oversight.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should consider legislation to require NRC to review and evaluate a number and a variety of DOE nuclear facilities and processes, including detailed review of plant operations, the contractors safety analysis methodology and report, and actions taken to mitigate hazards.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should reorganize those field organizations involved in safety and health oversight to report directly, and exclusively, to the elevated safety and health organization at headquarters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require, for a potentially serious safety or health complaint which cannot be adequately resolved at the contractor level, that DOE safety and health officials conduct an independent investigation and provide to the complainant a response which clearly addresses the issues of the complaint and provides data clearly supportive of the DOE findings or opinions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should take action to develop a uniform policy for dealing with safety and health violations. This policy should include a system to delineate classes of violations based on danger to employees as well as requirements for posting violations, setting abatement time frames, and checking to ensure that corrective action has been taken.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct that a formal, consolidated system be established to collect and analyze information on workplace hazards for all DOE nuclear facilities and establish priorities for future safety and health oversight activities based on that analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should consolidate the policymaking, coordinating, and appraisal functions into one organizational unit. To ensure that this unit has sufficient authority to carry out its responsibilities, it should at least be at a level of authority higher than those units responsible for implementing established policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should expedite the development of DOE emergency preparedness requirements. These requirements should clearly define DOE and contractor responsibilities and should describe specific emergency preparedness criteria. Such criteria should reflect post Three Mile Island lessons learned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish requirements for annual appraisals of field office and contractor emergency preparedness programs. In addition, the Secretary should require that DOE independently review and evaluate contractor drills on a regular basis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide the support necessary to carry out responsibilities delegated by FEMA in its national effort to improve emergency preparedness around nuclear facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should take the necessary steps, as recommended previously, to correct the weaknesses noted in a March 1979 report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should take action to increase safety analysis program staffing and budget to provide the program with the capability to adequately conduct and review safety analyses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish a target completion date for the safety analysis program and issue specific criteria for conducting safety analysis for existing facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct that radiological monitoring and radiological monitoring oversight requirements be issued for mandatory application to all DOE facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should develop a coordinated system whereby radiological monitoring data supplied by the DOE operating contractors are verified with state or local government agencies with monitoring capability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should evaluate the oversight aspects of the headquarters safety and health organization to report, as a staff organization, to the DOE Under Secretary. At this organizational level, competition with program offices should not exist and the safety and health organization would have the authority to mandate adherence to policy and standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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