Department of Energy's Transuranic Waste Disposal Plan Needs Revision

RCED-86-90: Published: Mar 21, 1986. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 1986.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed certain aspects of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Transuranic (TRU) Waste Disposal and Defense Waste Management Plan to determine: (1) whether the plan covered the permanent disposal of all TRU waste; (2) whether the plan identified all costs for the permanent disposal of TRU waste; and (3) the status of DOE efforts to resolve environmental and safety issues related to the permanent disposal of TRU waste.

TRU waste consists of discarded materials contaminated with manmade radioactive elements that can be dangerous if inhaled or ingested and can remain radioactive for thousands of years. DOE generates TRU waste from its defense weapons production, research, development, and testing activities. Prior to 1970, DOE buried TRU waste in shallow pits; however, it determined that TRU waste should be stored at six facilities until there was a safe, permanent disposal method, and Congress required DOE to set a plan for the permanent disposal of TRU waste. GAO found that the plan does not: (1) explain the DOE position concerning the permanent disposal of pre-1970 buried waste and is silent concerning contaminated soil; (2) disclose that some TRU waste, such as large equipment, may not meet its disposal facility's disposal criteria; (3) include costs for disposing of buried waste, contaminated soil, and waste not acceptable to the disposal facility; and (4) provide details on environmental and safety issues or discuss the types of or timing for environmental analyses needed before operations begin. DOE has begun efforts to resolve TRU waste environmental and safety issues to comply with National Environmental Policy Act requirements and continues to assess: (1) its facilities' structural integrity; (2) the safe transportation of TRU waste; and (3) the safe disposal of buried waste and contaminated soil.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE issued a June 1987 report for the specific purpose to respond to this recommendation. The report addresses each of the three areas identified in this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should revise the plan and submit it to all legislative, authorization, appropriations, and oversight committees to include: (1) specific plans for the permanent disposal of buried waste, contaminated soil, and difficult-to-certify waste; (2) cost estimates for the permanent disposal of TRU waste, including the options for buried waste, contaminated soil, and difficult-to-certify waste, processing and certifying newly generated TRU waste, decontamination and decommissioning of TRU waste processing facilities, and interim operations; and (3) specific and detailed discussions of environmental and safety issues for the permanent disposal of TRU waste.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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