Department of Energy:

Uncertain Future for External Regulation of Worker and Nuclear Facility Safety

T-RCED-99-269: Published: Jul 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) progress toward the external regulation of nuclear and worker safety at its facilities, focusing on: (1) DOE's changing positions on the desirability of external regulation for its facilities; (2) the disagreement between DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the potential costs and value added of external regulation; and (3) the uncertainties for the future of external regulation in DOE.

GAO noted that: (1) despite the time and effort by DOE, NRC, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to test regulatory approaches and simulate regulation of nuclear and worker safety at three different DOE sites, uncertainty clouds the future of DOE external regulation; (2) DOE's leadership has changed over the years and each of the last three Secretaries has changed the Department's position on external regulation; (3) the Secretary believes it is no longer a worthwhile pursuit because the costs would likely outweigh the value of external regulation; (4) today's position sharply contrasts with DOE's previously held positions supporting external regulation and also conflicts with the Department's own pilot program results as well as the conclusions reached by NRC and OSHA; (5) the results of the pilot program and the extensive practical experience gained with NRC and OSHA show that external regulation improves safety and accountability and is not likely to be prohibitively expensive; (6) NRC also believes the potential costs of externally regulating DOE facilities are much less than DOE projections; and (7) while DOE leadership has decided not to pursue external regulation, the pilot's results, a decade of reports by blue ribbon panels and DOE working groups, and the experience with NRC and OSHA give Congress valuable information with which to make an informed judgment about the future of external regulation in DOE.

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