Nuclear Health and Safety:

DOE Needs to Take Further Actions to Ensure Safe Transportation of Radioactive Materials

RCED-88-195: Published: Sep 27, 1988. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) regulation of its program for transporting high-level radioactive materials.

GAO found that: (1) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission identified safety-related concerns with DOE-certified containers for transporting radioactive material, involving structure, containment, shielding, thermal, criticality, and acceptance testing and maintenance conditions; (2) these concerns prompted DOE to revamp container certification procedures, consolidate certification responsibility at national headquarters, and remove many of the containers from the transport program; (3) a DOE contractor's review identified inadequate documentation that the containers complied with safety requirements, the use of nonconservative analyses, and calculation errors; (4) DOE continued to use the containers up to 3 months after the contractor identified these problems; (5) DOE used three containers for several years without ever obtaining certification; (6) DOE used four containers with only 60-day approvals for several years; and (7) DOE regarded inadequate demonstration and certification as documentation problems not affecting container safety.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The DOE Central Certifying Organization provided written guidance in accordance with this recommendation. This included decertifying 20 containers that no longer met safety criteria.

    Recommendation: In accordance with the provisions of DOE Order 5480.3, the Secretary of Energy should promptly develop written guidance for addressing and resolving safety-related concerns raised about the packages used to ship nonweapons, high-level radioactive materials. This guidance should include provisions for approving the continued use of these packages by an organization that does not manage their use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE is reviewing all package documentation and implementing procedures to ensure proper review of package designs. DOE does not plan to transfer weapons package certification authority to headquarters. To remove the conflict of having Albuquerque responsible for production and safety, DOE is transferring certification authority to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Military Applications.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should: (1) promptly conduct an independent review of all available documentation to ensure that package designs approved for transporting nuclear explosives, nuclear components, and special assemblies meet all applicable safety regulations; and (2) consolidate certification responsibilities for these packages with the centralized package certification program at DOE headquarters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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