Low-Level Radioactive Wastes:

States Are Not Developing Disposal Facilities

RCED-99-238: Published: Sep 17, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 1999.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of the management and disposal of commercially generated low-level radioactive wastes, including the progress of states and compacts of states in developing new disposal facilities.

GAO noted that: (1) by the end of 1998, states, acting alone or in compacts, had collectively spent almost $600 million attempting to develop new disposal facilities; (2) however, none of these efforts have been successful; (3) only California successfully licensed a facility, but the federal government did not transfer to the state federal land on which the proposed site is located; (4) in three other states, candidate sites were rejected by state regulatory agencies; (5) North Carolina was considering a license application for a site when it shut down the project for what it characterized as budgetary reasons; (6) at this time, the efforts by states to develop new disposal facilities have essentially stopped; (7) most commercial generators of low-level radioactive wastes have access to waste disposal services; (8) the volume of these wastes disposed of in 1998 was less than half the amount disposed of each year in the late 1980s; (9) still, the Barnwell Waste Management facility's remaining disposal capacity could be used up in 10 years; (10) the Envirocare of Utah facility is available to waste generators in all states except the Northwest compact region, which requires its waste generators to use the Richland facility; (11) the limited capacity of the Barnwell facility and the lack of the successful development of new facilities by compacts or states raise the question of whether to retain or abandon the compact approach; (12) retaining the present system would allow compacts and individual states to continue to exercise substantial control over the management and disposal of low-level radioactive wastes but would also maintain a system that has not provided an ample, assured supply of future disposal capacity; (13) abandoning the compact approach in favor of opening the disposal market to private industry could stimulate competition to meet the disposal needs of both commercial waste generators and the Department of Energy (DOE); (14) however, states and opponents of new disposal sites could still oppose the private development of new disposal facilities, and Washington State might close the Richland facility rather than permit the facility to serve waste generators throughout the nation; and (15) DOE has sufficient disposal capacity to meet the needs of commercial waste generators; however, the most likely DOE facilities are located in Nevada and Washington, which appear to have little incentive to accept such an arrangement.

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