Nuclear Waste:

Much Effort Needed to Meet Federal Facility Compliance Act's Requirements

RCED-94-179: Published: May 17, 1994. Publicly Released: May 17, 1994.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) management of radioactive and hazardous waste, focusing on: (1) DOE progress in submitting treatment plans and complying with the Federal Facility Compliance Act (FFCA); (2) DOE efforts to develop technologies for and provide the capacity to treat mixed wastes; and (3) additional actions needed to completely implement FFCA.

GAO found that: (1) DOE has submitted to the states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) preliminary site treatment plans that identify many mixed-waste treatment options and has started to evaluate the technical feasibility and cost of these options; (2) DOE does not expect to submit a proposed site treatment plan or specific treatment technologies and schedules to the states or EPA for their review and approval until February 1995; (3) DOE has not devoted adequate resources toward developing language for compliance orders under FFCA; (4) DOE has made limited progress in developing its capacity to treat mixed-waste streams at three of its largest sites; (5) DOE progress in treating mixed-waste streams has been hindered by the lack of information concerning the wastes' radioactive and hazardous properties and alternative treatment technologies and DOE policies to defer facility construction until federal and state consensus has been reached; (6) DOE, EPA, and the states will need to complete several tasks and resolve numerous technical and policy issues to meet the act's 1995 target date; and (7) it is unclear whether DOE, states, and EPA will be able to resolve waste treatment issues, negotiate final site treatment plans, and comply with the act by October 1995 because DOE has not developed sufficient site treatment plans.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has continued to work with the states and EPA to develop mutually acceptable site treatment plans for well-characterized mixed waste streams. Recognizing that some waste streams will not be characterized in time to meet the FFCA's October 1995 deadline, DOE, the states, and EPA have adopted an alternative approach for uncharacterized streams that is consistent with the recommendation. The states and EPA have agreed that they will review proposed site treatment plans that contain different information for well-characterized and not-well-characterized streams. Accordingly, in March 1995, DOE submitted proposed treatment plans to the states and EPA that identified treatment options for well-characterized streams and schedules for completing characterization and analysis of treatment options for less well-understood streams.

    Recommendation: To improve the likelihood that DOE, the states, and EPA, will meet the FFCA October 1995 deadline, the Secretary of Energy should evaluate and implement, if appropriate, alternatives for meeting the deadline. These alternatives should include: (1) preparing proposed and final site treatment plans for well-characterized waste streams; and (2) beginning negotiations on these plans with the states and EPA before preparing proposed and final site treatment plans for streams that are not well-characterized.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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