Nuclear Science:

DOE's Self-Supporting Isotope Program Is Experiencing Problems

RCED-92-122FS: Published: Jun 3, 1992. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the status of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Isotope Production and Distribution Program, focusing on: (1) problems the program has experienced in operating on a self-supporting basis; (2) the cost factors affecting DOE isotope production; and (3) domestic isotope customers' reactions to the program.

GAO found that: (1) DOE has experienced difficulty operating its isotope program on a self-supporting basis, primarily because the program cannot control radioisotope production costs, lacks sufficient funds to operate and maintain the equipment used to process stable isotopes, faces private-sector competition, and lacks capital to expand and improve program operations; (2) due to the lack of operating funds, the program has moved from its initial capitalization of $16 million in fiscal year (FY) 1990 to possible insolvency by the end of FY 1992; (3) cost factors affecting isotope production vary, depending on whether the facilities producing the isotopes exist primarily for other purposes or are dedicated solely to isotope production; (4) the isotope program pays a share of facility operating costs corresponding to the facility space used, when the facilities exist for other purposes, but when facilities are dedicated exclusively to isotope production, the program then takes responsibility for all costs, including capital expenses; (5) although program centralization was welcomed by DOE domestic isotope customers, there are concerns about the continued availability of certain isotopes from DOE; and (6) domestic isotope customers are primarily concerned about the possible adverse effects that the program's commitment to self-sufficiency may have on isotope availability, isotope research, and needed facility upgrades.

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