Nuclear Health and Safety:

DOE Has Not Demonstrated That Restarting PUREX Is a Sound Decision

RCED-90-207: Published: Jun 29, 1990. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the shutdown and planned restart of the Plutonium-Uranium Extraction plant (PUREX) at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Hanford Site in Washington.

GAO found that DOE has not: (1) demonstrated that restarting PUREX would be a sound decision; (2) demonstrated that a need exists for weapons-grade plutonium from PUREX; (3) determined the need for a supplemental environmental impact statement for PUREX; (4) required that all identified deficiencies in the final safety analysis report be corrected before the planned restart date; and (5) adequately addressed PUREX staff turnover and training problems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This issue is mute, since PUREX will not be restarted.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should prohibit restart of PUREX until all of the identified safety- and training-related concerns have been corrected or adequately addressed. This would include requiring the PUREX contractor to demonstrate how it plans to maintain technical and operation staff skills intact until the plant is restarted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This issue is mute, since PUREX will not be restarted.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should prohibit restart of PUREX until all of the identified safety- and training-related concerns have been corrected or adequately addressed. This would include making corrections to the PUREX final safety analysis report so that it is in full compliance with DOE orders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The issue is mute, since PUREX will not be restarted.

    Recommendation: If the Secretary of Energy decides to continue with plans to restart PUREX, a supplemental environmental impact statement should be prepared before restart. As part of this process, DOE should demonstrate that PUREX is the best alternative for disposition of spent fuel as waste. Detailed technical, engineering, and cost analyses should accompany DOE final decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of Energy determined in December, 1992 that PUREX would not be started. A January 1993 memorandum from the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Restoration and Waste Management informed the Manager of the Richland Operations Office of the decision not to restart PUREX. The program management plan to deactivate PUREX is in the process of being formalized.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should determine at this time whether PUREX should be restarted at all.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This issue is mute, since PUREX will not be restarted.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should prohibit restart of PUREX until all of the identified safety- and training-related concerns have been corrected or adequately addressed. This would include making implementation of an additional shift requirement so that adequate time for needed training can be better ensured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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