Nuclear Waste:

DOE Should Provide More Information on Monitored Retrievable Storage

RCED-87-92: Published: Jun 1, 1987. Publicly Released: Jun 12, 1987.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Department of Energy's (DOE) plans for monitored retrievable storage (MRS) of spent nuclear fuel, focusing on whether the DOE MRS proposal provided Congress with enough information to determine whether to authorize an MRS facility.

GAO found that: (1) DOE proposed an MRS system whose principal role would be waste preparation rather than long-term waste storage, as the Nuclear Waste Policy Act envisioned; (2) the DOE proposal did not show how a system that included MRS would differ from a system that did not; (3) DOE did not analyze potential alternatives to determine whether it could improve the nuclear waste management process without MRS; (4) DOE did not compare the costs of MRS and non-MRS alternatives; (5) DOE believes that, while MRS would increase total system costs by $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion, it would offset the costs by savings of up to $1 billion in spent-fuel storage costs at reactors; and (6) DOE did not estimate the cost of state and local taxes for MRS or the cost of mitigating the local impact of an MRS facility.

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

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: DOE has submitted its proposal to Congress seeking authorization to construct and operate an MRS facility primarily for waste preparation and packaging rather than for long-term waste storage. In evaluating the proposal, Congress needs to recognize that the MRS concepts embodied in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the DOE proposal are different.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In December 1987, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act which authorized construction of an MRS facility, subject to certain conditions.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to assist Congress in its determination of whether MRS should be integrated into the nuclear waste management system, the Secretary of Energy should obtain reactor-specific information from utilities on: (1) their need for MRS and how it would affect their operations; (2) whether they are willing and able to implement alternatives for improving the authorized waste management identified by DOE, such as rod consolidation, dry storage, and upgrading for rail transport, at reactor sites; and (3) whether utilities have identified other potentially viable alternatives for the management of nuclear wastes that may be more beneficial than either MRS or the alternatives identified by DOE.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE contractors surveyed eight utilities to find out their views on MRS and their ability to implement some alternatives. This limited survey does not give a full indication of the capabilities and willingness of the industry as a whole to implement alternatives to MRS. However, in December 1987, Congress passed legislation that, among other things, authorized DOE to develop a MRS facility.

    Recommendation: In order to assist Congress in its determination of whether MRS should be included into the nuclear waste management system, the Secretary of Energy should identify the best configuration of the authorized waste management system that combines the most feasible alternatives for maximizing the effectiveness, efficiency, and safety of the system in lieu of MRS and present Congress with the benefits and costs of both systems. This analysis should include the final results of the DOE Program Research and Development Announcement and ongoing systems integration studies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE completed a report analyzing alternative waste management systems without MRS and comparing these with a system which includes MRS in November 1987.

    Recommendation: In order to assist Congress in its determination of whether MRS should be included in the nuclear waste management system, the Secretary of Energy should determine the estimated costs of each program element which has been identified, but not yet quantified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE completed a report analyzing, among other issues, the costs of MRS program elements which have previously been identified, but not quantified.

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