Nuclear Waste:

Slow Progress Developing Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facilities

RCED-92-61: Published: Jan 10, 1992. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) state efforts to implement the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985; (2) federal and state efforts to resolve issues related to mixed waste, low-level waste that also contains hazardous chemicals, and wastes with very low levels of radioactivity; and (3) the Department of Energy's (DOE) progress in discharging the federal government's responsibility to manage the most hazardous low-level waste.

GAO found that: (1) the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act 0f 1985 established six milestones for states to develop new low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities and financial penalties for waste generators if the states did not meet the milestones; (2) although the majority of the states met the first three milestones, most did not expect to have their disposal facilities operational by the final deadline; (3) efforts to involve the public and public opposition have increased the time needed to accomplish such key tasks as site selection; (4) the states that do not expect to complete their facilities on time plan to have waste generators store low-level wastes until the new facilities are ready; (5) states are concerned about the high unit cost of disposing of mixed wastes and have suggested either that DOE, which generates much larger quantities of mixed wastes, assume responsibility for disposing of commercially generated mixed waste or that a lead agency be designated to regulate low-level radioactive waste; (6) due to negative public reactions, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reexamining its policy on the approach it would take to exempt waste with very low levels of radioactivity from disposal requirements; and (7) although DOE had planned to begin managing the most hazardous low-level waste in 1989, it has not completed preparations to store this waste and does not expect to have a disposal facility ready until 2010.

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