GAO's Response to DOE's Comments on EMD-81-108, "Better Oversight Needed at DOE's Nuclear Facilities"

EMD-82-36: Published: Jan 27, 1982. Publicly Released: Feb 11, 1982.

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GAO responded to Department of Energy (DOE) criticisms of report EMD-81-108 in which GAO recommended major changes in the safety and health oversight program at DOE contractor-operated facilities. GAO suggested that Congress consider legislation to require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review the safety of a number of facilities, including several defense-related activities. DOE criticized the report on the grounds that: (1) GAO misunderstood the DOE approach to safety and health; (2) NRC lacks technical expertise in technology associated with DOE production nuclear reactors and operations; (3) the high cost of a review and evaluation by NRC would not provide a commensurate benefit; and (4) NRC oversight of this facet of DOE defense responsibilities could seriously interfere with national security.

GAO replied that: (1) DOE believes that safety and health is the responsibility of the contractor, but GAO found that the safety and health personnel at DOE field offices lack the independence to effectively implement safety and health regulations; (2) while NRC is not intimately familiar with the exact combination of processes at many DOE facilities, GAO believes that NRC is capable of conducting the reviews, given that sufficient background material is made available; (3) though the report did not include a detailed cost/benefit analysis, GAO did comment on the cost and effort involved in an NRC review of DOE facilities, but the DOE criticism did not add any additional insight to this aspect of such a review; and (4) there are a number of options available which offer potential for NRC involvement with an acceptable national security impact, such as limitation of the program to several DOE nuclear facilities to initially decrease the amount of classified information available to NRC personnel. In summary, GAO found nothing in the DOE arguments to support a change in any of the recommendations or positions in the report.

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