Radioactive Waste:

Interior's Continuing Review of the Proposed Transfer of the Ward Valley Waste Site

RCED-97-184: Published: Jul 15, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined: (1) what sources of information the Department of the Interior relied on in deciding to prepare a second supplemental environmental impact statement and in selecting issues to address in the supplement; and (2) whether the selected issues had been considered in earlier state or federal proceedings and, if so, whether they are being reconsidered on the basis of significant new information.

GAO noted that: (1) in deciding to prepare a second supplement and the issues it should address, Interior relied primarily on: (a) a report by the National Academy of Sciences on the proposed disposal facility at Ward Valley; and (b) new information and analysis from the U.S. Geological Survey on the migration of radioactive materials in the soil from a now-retired disposal facility at Beatty, Nevada; (2) in selecting other issues to address in the supplement, Interior relied on the comments of environmental groups, Native American tribes, and others; (3) eleven of the 13 issues that Interior is addressing in the new supplement, such as the effects of a disposal facility at Ward Valley on Native Americans, had been considered in California's licensing process and in previous environmental statements prepared by the state and Interior's Bureau of Land Management; (4) the other two issues--the findings and recommendation of the Academy and the information on the Beatty facility--are new; (5) in announcing that it would prepare the new supplement, Interior gave as its reasons and impasse with California over land-transfer conditions and the age of the original environmental impact statement; (6) Interior did not state that its decision to prepare the supplement was based on significant new information that would require it to prepare a supplement to the original environmental impact statement; (7) in fact, much of the new information that has become available is favorable to the proposed disposal facility; (8) Interior's underlying reasons for preparing a second supplement were that it should provide a forum for the resolution of the public's concerns about the facility and independently determine if the site is suitable for containing radioactive wastes; (9) Interior, however, has neither criteria nor technical expertise in radiological safety matters to independently determine if the site is suitable for a disposal facility, nor has it sought technical assistance from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or, with one exception, the Department of Energy; (10) California, however, has net all of the state's procedural and substantive requirements for licensing the proposed facility; and (11) consequently, the state and its licensee have sued Interior to determine, among other things, if Interior has exceeded its authority with respect to radiological safety matters, such as determining the site's suitability.

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