Nuclear Safety:

Status of U.S. Assistance to Improve the Safety of Soviet-Designed Reactors

RCED-97-5: Published: Oct 29, 1996. Publicly Released: Nov 13, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) changes in the U.S. nuclear safety assistance program's goals since its inception; (2) the costs associated with the program; (3) the status of 13 safety projects implemented by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); and (4) the way in which the agencies assess the effect of the projects on improving safety.

GAO found that: (1) the U.S. nuclear safety assistance program's goals to reduce the risk of accidents and encourage the shutdown of the highest-risk Soviet-designed nuclear power reactors have not changed; (2) despite U.S. efforts to close these reactors, none of the highest-risk reactors have been closed and one in Armenia has been restarted; (3) DOE plans to increase its assistance to RBMK reactors to improve their safety while they continue operations; (4) reasons for not shutting down these reactors include the slow pace of the operating countries' economic reforms, concerns about displaced workers' social and economic well-being, and the need for financing for developing replacement energy sources; (5) DOE believes the nuclear safety assistance program should continue another 10 years and is developing a long-term plan that addresses how additional funds should be spent; (6) as of March 1996, DOE and NRC had received $208 million for their programs and had spent $89 million on nuclear safety equipment and products and other expenditures including program-related labor, travel, and overhead; (7) 11 of the 13 DOE and NRC safety projects reviewed have experienced delays, including untimely equipment deliveries due to customs problems and required equipment testing in Russia; (8) some projects have resulted in the installation of fire safety equipment and other safety-related hardware at nuclear powerplants and the development of safety-related training programs in Ukraine; and (9) it is too early to assess the extent to which these projects have improved nuclear reactor safety, and it is difficult to quantify the impact of the assistance provided.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has commented and acted upon the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the nuclear safety assistance program, the Secretary of Energy should develop a strategic plan that: (1) clearly links the program's goals and objectives to performance measurements; (2) provides well-defined time frames for completing the program; and (3) projects the anticipated funds required to meet the program's specific objectives, including the estimated U.S. contributions to cost-sharing arrangements that take into account the recipient countries' ability to realistically meet resource commitments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has commented and acted upon the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the nuclear safety assistance program, the Secretary of Energy should facilitate the timely and duty-free delivery of U.S. safety equipment to nuclear powerplants in Ukraine. Specifically, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's in-country representative in Ukraine should, as part of this position's assigned duty, work with the appropriate government authorities to resolve customs problems should the position assume broader responsibilities in the future. Part of this monitoring responsibility could include periodic visits to the nuclear powerplants in Ukraine.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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