Nuclear Materials:

Alternatives for Relocating Rocky Flats Plant's Plutonium Operations

RCED-87-93: Published: Apr 14, 1987. Publicly Released: May 6, 1987.

Additional Materials:


Keith O. Fultz
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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined operations at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Rocky Flats Plant to determine: (1) whether relocating the plutonium-processing operations to other DOE sites is a viable alternative to correcting problems with the processing building; (2) what effect such a relocation would have on public health and safety in the Denver, Colorado, area; and (3) whether the costs associated with correcting the processing building's problems are significant enough to warrant relocating the entire plant.

GAO found that DOE has several options to choose from for eliminating or reducing plutonium activities at Rocky Flats, including relocating: (1) all Rocky Flats operations; (2) the processing of residues, oxides, and site returns; (3) the processing of site returns; (4) the processing of oxides; and (5) the processing of oxides and site returns. GAO noted that: (1) relocating all operations would cost about $4 billion; (2) relocating a portion of recovery operations would cost from $206 million to $7 million, depending on what operations were moved and where they were moved; and (3) repairing the processing building and keeping all operations at Rocky Flats would cost about $303 million. GAO also found that: (1) the plant's contractor believes that the risks associated with its operations are within DOE limits; (2) the primary hazard at the plant is from an earthquake, not from wind; (3) since fabrication, not plutonium processing, is the major contributor to safety and health risks at the plant, relocating the processing operations would not drastically change the overall risk from the plant; (4) the time required for relocating some or all of the plutonium operations could help minimize adverse socioeconomic effects; and (5) relocating all operations would not affect employment for 14 years. GAO concluded that: (1) DOE is not close to a decision on the future of plutonium processing at Rocky Flats; and (2) the most attractive alternative depends on the emphasis DOE places on the cost and the environmental, safety, and health risks of each alternative.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 1988, DOE issued its comprehensive strategy for modernizing the weapons complex. The strategy calls for relocating all operations currently performed at the Rocky Flats plant.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should ensure that the selection of the best solution is closely coordinated with this study to ensure that construction/modernization funding is used efficiently.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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