Nuclear Safety and Health:

Problems With Cleaning Up the Solar Ponds at Rocky Flats

RCED-91-31: Published: Jan 3, 1991. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) progress in cleaning up solar evaporation ponds at its Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant.

GAO found that: (1) in September 1986, DOE had to reclassify the ponds' low-level radioactive waste to mixed waste after detecting low concentrations of hazardous waste; (2) the reclassification resulted in the requirement that DOE obtain the necessary permits for hazardous waste storage and disposal; (3) the DOE contractor improperly mixed the cement and sludge waste in making pondcrete, a solidified waste form, causing thousands of pondcrete blocks to crumble and crack; (4) pondcrete packaging material deteriorated under adverse weather conditions; (5) lack of program plans and control mechanisms contributed to the cleanup problems; (6) the contractor developed procedures for processing pondcrete, reinspecting all pondcrete boxes, frequent monitoring of storage pads, and repackaging failed pondcrete boxes; (7) in addition to remixing and repackaging more than 8,000 pondcrete blocks, DOE still had to remove sediment from the largest pond and clean out the remaining four; (8) continued cleanup could result in the production of as many as 20,000 additional pondcrete blocks; and (9) DOE believed that the total project cost would be over $100 million.

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