Nuclear Waste:

Fourth Annual Report on DOE's Nuclear Waste Program

RCED-88-131: Published: Sep 28, 1988. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 1988.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO assessed the Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to implement the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, focusing on the: (1) implications of declining nuclear waste quantities; (2) increased program costs; and (3) effects of the 1987 revisions to the act on the DOE plan for a facility to receive and store nuclear wastes.

GAO found that: (1) waste disposal projections have declined because utilities have not ordered new nuclear power plants since 1978; (2) despite this decline, estimates of waste program costs increased from $23 billion in 1983 to $33 billion in 1987; (3) DOE estimated that it would cost $23 billion to implement the revised program, with Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the sole repository, and about $31 billion if it constructed a second repository; (4) DOE expected the Yucca Mountain site to hold 70,000 metric tons of wastes, but was uncertain about the site's potential for expansion; and (5) the act's revisions limited DOE authority to construct and operate a monitored retrievable storage (MRS) facility in advance of a repository.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: After 2.5 years, Congress has taken no action to implement the recommendation. Furthermore, Nevada has successfully blocked DOE access to the site for on-site investigations. Thus, it seems unlikely that Congress would pursue this recommendation over the next year or two.

    Matter: Congress may wish to explore with DOE the advantages of earlier and more complete site characterization information on the secondary rock formations at Yucca Mountain, in view of the continuing decline in the estimates of waste to be disposed of and uncertainty about the capacity of the currently defined primary disposal area at that site.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has completed studies examining the benefits of various configurations of an MRS as part of an integrated waste management system. The results of these studies have been provided to the MRS Review Commission. That commission issued its report on November 1, 1989.

    Recommendation: To provide the Monitored Retrievable Storage Review Commission with the best possible information for its evaluation and report to Congress on June 1, 1989, the Secretary of Energy should supplement the original DOE MRS facility proposal by identifying, with supporting analyses, the benefits of adding a facility to the nuclear waste system under the conditions established in the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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