Nuclear Waste:

Repository Work Should Not Proceed Until Quality Assurance Is Adequate

RCED-88-159: Published: Sep 29, 1988. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 1988.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

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

 

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

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Department of Energy's (DOE): (1) progress in developing a quality assurance program for characterizing the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, site for possible use as a nuclear waste repository; and (2) interaction with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in identifying and resolving potential quality-related licensing problems.

GAO found that: (1) NRC oversight of quality assurance program development was limited due to problems and delays in DOE program development; (2) NRC identified several concerns about the program regarding document inadequacy, noncompliance with quality assurance standards, ineffective contractor auditing, general program management and development, and lack of direct control over the contractor's quality assurance programs; (3) NRC formally concluded that it lacked confidence in the program's adequacy; and (4) DOE acknowledged that, although its present quality assurance was inadequate, it would be ready for NRC verification before site characterization began. GAO also found that neither DOE nor NRC have sufficiently attempted to timely address these concerns, since: (1) DOE assigned a higher priority to other project activities and did not resolve any of the problems NRC identified; and (2) NRC did not aggressively pursue opportunities to more adequately assess the quality assurance program and did not raise unresolved issues to higher-level NRC or DOE management for possible resolution.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NRC believes that its existing agreement with DOE is effective and that additional procedures regarding issue resolution are not needed at this time. It provided two examples of recent progress in resolving issues as evidence that the agreement is working. GAO believes that the agency's increased attention to resolving long-standing matters satisfies the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that issues raised as a result of the interaction between NRC and DOE are resolved early, the Secretary of Energy and the Chairman, NRC, should incorporate into the pre-licensing consultation agreement procedures for ensuring that issues will be resolved on mutually agreeable schedules.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC is now using its quarterly reports to identify problems in the DOE quality assurance program. It is also sending the reports to the Director, DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, to ensure that DOE senior management is also aware of NRC concerns and the actions that the NRC staff considers are necessary to resolve them.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that quality assurance concerns are addressed in a timely manner, the Chairman, NRC, should use NRC nuclear waste quarterly progress reports as a vehicle for bringing these concerns to the attention of senior NRC management.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE delayed the start of site characterization until January 1991. In February 1991, NRC agreed with the DOE finding that the program is adequate to begin limited new work.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should proceed with site characterization work segments only after NRC has notified DOE that it concurs with the Secretary's determination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 1988, DOE delayed site characterization until November 1989 because its quality assurance program was not adequate to begin work. DOE later slipped the date until January 1991 because the program will not be ready to begin work until at least then. In February 1991, NRC agreed with DOE findings that the program is adequate to begin limited new work.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should proceed with site characterization work segments only after the Secretary determines that all quality assurance programs related to regulatory work are in place and meet NRC standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to DOE, modifying the agreement with NRC is neither necessary nor feasible. However, it agrees that additional rigor on the part of both agencies is needed to ensure that issues are resolved more timely. Since the report was issued, the agencies have identified open items in two major program areas that require resolution before beginning site characterization.

    Recommendation: To ensure that issues raised as a result of the interaction between NRC and DOE are resolved early, the Secretary of Energy and the Chairman, NRC, should incorporate into the pre-licensing consultation agreement procedures for ensuring that issues will be resolved on mutually agreeable schedules.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 28, 2016

Sep 26, 2016

Aug 15, 2016

Jul 26, 2016

Jul 21, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here