Nuclear Waste:

Unresolved Issues Concerning Hanford's Waste Management Practices

RCED-87-30: Published: Nov 4, 1986. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) management and disposal of defense nuclear waste at its Hanford, Washington, facility to determine how Hanford complies with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA).

RCRA regulates hazardous waste from its generation through its ultimate disposal, and CERCLA regulates the cleanup of inactive waste sites; DOE is exempt from RCRA where compliance would be inconsistent with the Atomic Energy Act. GAO found that Hanford: (1) has not identified all the disposal units for RCRA permit applications; (2) drafted a report identifying potential CERCLA sites, which excluded at least 400 sites; (3) disposes of liquid low-level byproduct waste directly into the soil, despite state and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opposition, because it believes that its RCRA Atomic Energy Act exclusions allow it to do so without a permit; (4) does not meet RCRA groundwater monitoring requirements at four hazardous or mixed-waste units; and (5) compliance with RCRA and CERCLA has become more complex because recent amendments have caused uncertainties concerning the corrective actions required to receive RCRA permits.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 15, 1987, DOE submitted to EPA and the Washington State Department of Ecology its Hanford Site Waste Management Unit Report. This report responded to the recommendation that DOE Hanford report to EPA and Washington State on its active and inactive waste sites and units, including by-product waste units and unplanned release areas and the regulatory authority that applies to sites and units.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require Hanford to report to EPA and Washington State: (1) all sites and units previously and currently used to treat, store, and dispose of waste, including those considered to be byproduct and those contaminated by unplanned releases; and (2) the regulatory authority, RCRA, CERCLA, or the Atomic Energy Act, that controls the management, disposal, and corrective actions for all sites and units identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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