Nuclear Health and Safety:

Oversight at DOE's Nuclear Facilities Can Be Strengthened

RCED-88-137: Published: Jul 8, 1988. Publicly Released: Jul 8, 1988.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Victor S. Rezendes
(202) 512-6082
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the Department of Energy's (DOE) environment, safety, and health (ES&H) activities, including: (1) the possibility that DOE could reduce the visibility and management it currently gives to safety and health issues; (2) legislatively mandated independent oversight of DOE nuclear facilities; and (3) unclear safety standards.

GAO found that: (1) DOE created an Assistant Secretary for ES&H in 1985 to oversee the operations and contractors responsible for its nuclear defense facilities; (2) since the health and safety functions of the office were not legislatively mandated, DOE could relegate these issues to a level that would not provide top management attention; (3) although DOE created an advisory committee on nuclear facility safety, it did not meet GAO criteria for effective and independent oversight; and (4) since DOE did not determine what commercial safety standards were applicable to its nuclear facilities, it could not determine if its facilities were safe compared to commercial nuclear facilities.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress passed and the President signed P.L. 100-456 on September 27, 1988, establishing a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to oversee the safety of the DOE nuclear defense complex. This law incorporates many features GAO recommended. In view of this board, it is very doubtful that Congress will give legislative status to the DOE ES&H organization.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Department of Energy Organization Act to specifically establish the position of Assistant Secretary for ES&H to institutionalize this key component of the DOE oversight program.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress passed and the President signed P.L. 100-456 on September 29, 1988, establishing the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to oversee the safety of the DOE nuclear defense complex. This law incorporates many features GAO recommended. It is too soon to tell how effective the board can be.

    Matter: Congress should legislatively establish independent oversight of DOE nuclear defense facilities which will satisfy the five GAO key criteria.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A formal process for the identification of standards was established with the issuance of DOE Order 5480.23, "Nuclear Safety Analysis Reports", on April 30, 1992. DOE Order 1300.2A, "Department of Energy Standards Program", was also significantly revised to require the use of industry standards.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should revise DOE orders to establish meaningful safety standards and implementation policies to guide continued operation of existing facilities and to use as baseline safety criteria for developing its future strategy for the defense complex. This revision should include a formal process to: (1) clearly identify the commercial standards, guides, and codes that should be applied to DOE nuclear facilities; and (2) justify when a standard is not met.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 14, 2016

Sep 8, 2016

Aug 11, 2016

Aug 9, 2016

Aug 4, 2016

Jul 15, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jun 20, 2016

Mar 3, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here