Nuclear Waste:

Greater Use of Removal Actions Could Cut Time and Cost for Cleanups

RCED-96-124: Published: May 23, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) use of removal actions to reduce the cost and accelerate the pace of environmental restoration projects.

GAO found that: (1) removal actions save money and time compared with other remediation planning approaches; (2) the use of removal actions may provide information that is useful for other types of remediation, reduce the cumulative risk to human health and the environment, and reduce the size of sites under DOE control; (3) the use of removal actions at DOE facilities varies; (4) the use of removal actions is limited because removal actions are not part of interagency agreements with regulators or DOE contractors; (5) some officials believe that removal actions are intended for emergency situations or for planning small remediation projects; (6) officials at some sites are concentrating on streamlining Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liabilities Act (CERCLA) and interim remedial planning approaches, but planning and evaluation will still take significantly longer under simpler CERCLA processes; and (7) limited planning may increase the risk that an incorrect remedy will be chosen.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the managers of DOE facilities, working with their regulators, to reevaluate their environmental restoration strategies to ensure the maximum possible use of removal actions. Where appropriate, this action may include systematically evaluating each waste site where actual cleanup has not yet begun, including those sites where a lengthier assessment process is under way, to identify the sites where using a removal action would be feasible and cost-effective.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Through the development of its 10-year plan, known as "Paths to Closure", DOE reevaluated its environmental restoration approach and shifted to strategies, such as removal actions, that will get most of the Department's sites cleaned up in 10 years and at a lower cost.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the managers of DOE facilities, working with their regulators, to reevaluate their environmental restoration strategies to ensure the maximum possible use of removal actions. Where appropriate, this action may include seeking agreement to eliminate requirements in existing interagency agreements that favor lengthier review and assessment processes in exchange for a commitment to achieving significant cleanup progress through removal actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE developed a peer review process that works with DOE site officials and their regulators, who control the interagency agreements, to identify and implement expedited clean-up strategies, such as removal actions. This process has resulted in increased use of removal actions at such sites as Oak Ridge and Mound.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the managers of DOE facilities, working with their regulators, to reevaluate their environmental restoration strategies to ensure the maximum possible use of removal actions. Where appropriate, this action may include identifying and implementing incentives for DOE contractors that would increase the emphasis on, and the reward for, pursuing removal actions where appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has tried to include performance-based incentives covering removal actions in its contracts with its management and operations (M&O) contractors. DOE officials said that these incentives have been only partially successful, not because of problems with using removal actions, but because DOE's overall experience with performance-based contracting has not been successful. However, they expect to try to use the process more in the future.

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