Better Oversight Needed for Safety and Health Activities at DOE's Nuclear Facilities

EMD-81-108S: Published: Apr 14, 1982. Publicly Released: Apr 14, 1982.

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GAO provided a supplement to its report on whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or some other form of regulation would be preferable to the Department of Energy (DOE) oversight program currently in existence for safety and health matters at DOE nuclear facilities. To determine what arrangement would provide the best safety and health oversight for these facilities, GAO reviewed the four functional program areas: (1) occupational safety; (2) emergency preparedness; (3) facility design safety; and (4) environmental monitoring.

GAO found that the specific problems noted in the four DOE functional program areas warrant immediate corrective action. Some of these programs can be corrected by improved management techniques and a greater awareness of safety and health oversight. However, the underlying organization problems, a lack of headquarters authority, and the decentralized nature of the program may be the more serious problems over the long term. GAO believes that several alternatives exist for improving the oversight at DOE nuclear facilities. These range from reorganizing the entire safety and health function within DOE to having outside agencies provide safety and health oversight. Each alternative has advantages and disadvantages. One alternative involves the reorganization of the safety and health organization within DOE. Major changes are required in the field/headquarters relationship. The current organization offers great potential for conflict between programmatic and safety and health activities. To increase program uniformity and to isolate field safety and health staff from program activities, DOE should reorganize those field organizations involved in safety and health oversight to report directly and exclusively to the elevated safety and health organization at headquarters. DOE has plans for establishing a separate reactor safety organization. However, it will be established at the same level as the existing program and GAO believes that it will do little to enhance the independence or authority of the DOE safety and health oversight program.

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