Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Storage of Defense and Commercial Nuclear Waste (2017-19)
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Energy: Storage of Defense and Commercial Nuclear Waste (2017-19)

The Department of Energy could improve its analysis of options for permanently storing defense high-level nuclear waste and commercial spent nuclear fuel.

Action:

The Department of Energy (DOE) should conduct a comprehensive assessment of the benefits, costs, and schedules of the options it reviewed and provided to the President in 2015, in accordance with Office of Management and Budget guidance and best practices, and in light of the new information and results from the assessment, revise if needed, the department's conclusion that a separate defense high-level waste repository is required.  

Progress:

Since GAO issued its January 2017 report on DOE’s plan to build separate repositories for defense and commercial nuclear waste, DOE has changed its policy, planning to comingle defense and commercial waste in a single repository, which fulfills the intent of this recommendation. The President's budget requests for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 proposed funding to resume licensing activities for a single, comingled repository at Yucca Mountain for the disposal of commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense radioactive waste. In May 2017, the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 represented a policy change that terminated DOE’s plans for a separate repository for defense waste. The President’s proposed budgets for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 proposed actions that would essentially revert to the federal government’s long-standing policy to develop a single repository at Yucca Mountain and terminate DOE’s 2015 plans to develop separate repositories for defense and commercial high-level waste. DOE’s proposed resumption for licensing a repository at Yucca Mountain stems from congressional direction (in a 1987 amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982) for DOE to focus its investigation for a potential repository site at Yucca Mountain. 

In addition, in response to GAO's January 2017 recommendation, DOE stated that should the department resume pursuit of a separate defense repository in the future, appropriations to conduct a more detailed analysis will be requested.  As of February 2019, the Congress and the administration have not reached consensus on a path forward for disposing of defense and commercial nuclear waste and Congress has not specifically directed funding to DOE to resume licensing activities at Yucca Mountain in the annual appropriations process. Although DOE did not conduct a comprehensive assessment on a separate defense repository, it suspended planning of the repository and stated it would conduct a more thorough analysis if it pursues a separate repository in the future, which fulfills the intent of this recommendation.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Energy
  • portrait of
    • Allison Bawden
    • Director, Natural Resources and Environment
    • bawdena@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-3841
  • portrait of
    • Frank Rusco
    • Director, Natural Resources & Environment
    • ruscof@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-3841