Extent of Problems and Cost to Revitalize the Nation's Nuclear Defense Complex

T-RCED-88-61: Published: Aug 23, 1988. Publicly Released: Aug 23, 1988.

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GAO discussed the adequacy of the Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to strengthen environmental, safety, and health (ES&H) oversight of its nuclear defense complex. GAO found that: (1) because DOE built much of the nuclear defense complex under less stringent codes and standards than exist now, many facilities have deteriorated to the point where they now have safety or operational problems; (2) many of the plants' processes and equipment items are obsolete, making repair work difficult and spare parts hard to procure; (3) many of the facilities are rated below the industry average; and (4) for over 30 years, DOE facilities have contaminated groundwater and soil in disposing of hazardous wastes. GAO also found that: (1) to upgrade existing facilities, clean up environmental contamination, dispose of radioactive wastes, and decontaminate the facilities would cost about $100 billion to $130 billion; (2) expanded production and the relocation of facilities would add $15 billion to $25 billion to the overall cost; and (3) the DOE advisory committee on safety was not independent and did not have the authority to require DOE to address its findings and recommendations. GAO believes that DOE needs: (1) external, independent oversight of the complex's safety aspects; (2) a strong internal program to ensure safe and environmentally acceptable facility operation; (3) an Assistant Secretary for ES&H; (4) a formal, systematic program for assessing whether its facilities meet current commercial standards; and (5) a modernization plan that sets the projected facility requirements for continued nuclear weapons production.

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