Nuclear Waste Cleanup:

DOE's Cleanup Plan for the Paducah, Kentucky Site Faces Uncertainties and Excludes Costly Activities

T-RCED-00-225: Published: Jun 27, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to clean up its Paducah, Kentucky, uranium enrichment plant, focusing on: (1) DOE's planned activities, cost, and schedule for cleaning up the site; (2) the challenges in accomplishing the cleanup plan; and (3) whether the cleanup plan includes all areas at the site requiring cleanup.

GAO noted that: (1) DOE expects to complete the cleanup by 2010 at a cost of about $1.3 billion; (2) DOE's cleanup plan focuses on six major categories of cleanup; (3) four of these address the physical contamination at the site--about 10 billion gallons of groundwater contaminated with radioactive and hazardous materials, contaminated surface water in creeks and ditches leaving the site, contamination in soils that may be spread by rain, and tons of buried waste; (4) the two other major categories include treating and disposing of the equivalent of about 52,000 barrels of waste and decontaminating and removing two unused process buildings; (5) numerous technical, funding, and regulatory uncertainties present challenges to DOE's ability to complete the cleanup as planned; (6) technical uncertainties include the planned use of technologies that are unproven or perhaps not well suited to the site's conditions; (7) also underpinning the plan is the assumption that federal funding for cleanup at Paducah will increase to an average of $124 million annually over the next decade, compared with the last 7 years' annual average funding of $43 million; (8) the plan also includes optimistic assumptions about reaching agreement with regulators on issues such as cleanup levels, strategies, and priorities; (9) even when the planned cleanup has been carried out, billions of dollars and many years will be needed to address areas at the Paducah site that are not in the cleanup plan; (10) the plan excludes nearly a million cubic feet of waste and scrap in areas known as DOE Material Storage Areas and 16 unused and inactive buildings and structures; (11) the additional materials, buildings, and structures are excluded from the plan not because they require no action but because they fall under the purview of a different departmental program; and (12) this programmatic distinction prevents the Paducah cleanup managers from assessing risk or planning a cleanup on a comprehensive, sitewide basis, and distorts the picture of the cleanup task at hand.

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