Nuclear Regulation:

Slow Progress in Identifying and Cleaning Up NRC's Licensees' Contaminated Sites

RCED-95-95: Published: Apr 24, 1995. Publicly Released: May 9, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effectiveness of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) decommissioning program, focusing on: (1) NRC progress in identifying all former licensees' sites that require additional cleanup; (2) NRC progress in ensuring that sites on its Site Decommissioning Management Plan (SDMP) are cleaned up in a timely manner; and (3) factors that impede the timely cleanup of sites.

GAO found that: (1) NRC has reviewed about 75 percent of its terminated licenses to identify sites that need additional cleanup and has found 22 sites that exceed its radioactive contamination guidelines; (2) NRC is seeking additional information on another 895 terminated licenses to determine if those sites need additional remediation; (3) NRC will not know the total number of sites that will require additional cleanup until it completes its review; (4) NRC expects to complete its initial review in 1996, but it will take several more years to conduct site inspections to determine contamination levels; (5) although NRC established SDMP in 1990 to ensure the timely remediation of sites facing difficult or prolonged cleanups, it has made little progress in cleaning up those sites; (6) NRC has issued additional regulations that require licensees to document their activities that could affect decommissioning operations; (7) the delays in cleaning up contaminated sites increase the risk of human exposure to radioactive wastes; and (8) factors that have delayed or halted cleanup at SDMP sites include difficulties in disposing of large quantities of a certain radioactive waste, litigation, coordination and negotiations between affected parties, and time consuming administrative reviews of decommissioning documents.

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