Nuclear Waste:

DOE's Management of Single-Shell Tanks at Hanford, Washington

RCED-89-157: Published: Jul 18, 1989. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) management of its Hanford, Washington, site's underground single-shell waste storage tanks containing radioactive and nonradioactive hazardous liquid and solid wastes from nuclear materials production.

GAO found that DOE: (1) through 1988, identified definite or possible leaks in 66 of 149 single-shell tanks, with an estimated leakage of about 750,000 gallons; (2) in 1987, completed an environmental impact statement for waste disposal, but deferred decisions until the issuance of a supplemental environmental statement in 2000; (3) signed a tripartite agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington for the removal of feasibly pumpable liquid waste from single-shell tanks by 1996 and for final disposal or removal of any such remaining waste by 2018; (4) did not collect data upon which to sufficiently base management decisions, establish program priorities, or take remedial actions; (5) lacked convincing evidence to support its assertions that the tank leaks had extremely low or nonexistent environmental impact; (6) reduced the volume of single-shell tanks' liquid waste by solidifying liquids or pumping them from tanks; (7) could further reduce the risk of future tank leaks by accelerating its liquid-pumping program and providing better ground covering in the tank farm areas; (8) cited a lack of convincing data indicating problems with accelerated movement of wastes as a reason for not placing new ground surface materials over the tank farm's gravel surface; and (9) repeatedly emphasized the production of nuclear materials to the detriment of environmental concerns.

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