Nuclear Waste:

Technical, Schedule, and Cost Uncertainties of the Yucca Mountain Repository Project

GAO-02-191: Published: Dec 21, 2001. Publicly Released: Dec 21, 2001.

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The administration's energy policy reflects renewed interest in expanding nuclear power as a source of electricity. However, the nation lacks a facility to permanently dispose of spent fuel from commercial power plants. The Department of Energy (DOE) has been studying Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as a possible repository for these highly radioactive wastes. GAO believes that it may be premature for the Secretary of Energy to recommend Yucca Mountain as a suitable site. Once the President considers the site qualified for a license application and recommends the site to Congress, the Nuclear Waste Policy act requires DOE to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) within five to eight months. DOE will be unable to submit an acceptable application to NRC within the statutory time frames for several years because of unresolved technical issues. DOE is unlikely to achieve its goal of opening a repository at Yucca Mountain by 2010, and it does not have a reliable estimate of when, and at what cost, such a repository can be opened.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOE will be prepared to submit an acceptable license application within the timeframes set out in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Secretary of Energy should consider (1) deferring a site recommendation until it can meet the express statutory time frames that are triggered by a site recommendation by the President to Congress and (2) including the results of DOE's ongoing technical work for NRC and the results of analyses of alternative approaches to the proposed repository in the Secretary's comprehensive statement of the basis for a site recommendation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOE's March 15, 2002 letter to GAO, the Secretary accepted this recommendation in the sense that before making his recommendation on February 14, 2002, he did consider the course of action GAO suggested.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the nuclear waste program and to provide Congress and the public with accurate information on the repository program, the Secretary of Energy should reestablish the baseline for the nuclear waste program through the submission of a license application, including incorporating the remaining technical work required to submit the application and the estimated cost and schedule to complete this work.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE implemented this recommendation when it signed a revised cost and schedule baseline on November 14, 2003. This baseline superseded the previous baseline that had last been revised in February 2000.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the nuclear waste program and to provide Congress and the public with accurate information on the repository program, the Secretary of Energy should follow the Department's requirements for managing major programs and projects, including a formal change control procedure.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE signed a new cost and schedule baseline on November 14, 2003. Page i of this new baseline indicates that DOE followed its requirements for managing projects, including its change control procedures.

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