Nuclear Health and Safety:

Summary of Major Problems at DOE's Rocky Flats Plant

RCED-89-53BR: Published: Oct 27, 1988. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO summarized the major environmental, safety, and health (ES&H) problems at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, which is the focal point for DOE plutonium operations.

GAO found that: (1) since 1986, DOE has performed three technical safety appraisals, which made 230 recommendations covering a wide range of safety and health standards; (2) many of the recommendations applied to more than one building and generally related to inadequate management attention to the plant's safety and health programs and deficient radiological and fire protection; (3) the plant lacked specific safety objectives and adequate oversight to ensure the completion and effectiveness of corrective actions; (4) although DOE instituted a series of short-term measures to improve plant conditions in February 1988, an internal plant appraisal in September 1988 indicated that safety and health programs still needed improvement; and (5) operations officials did not provide the plant contractor with sufficient direction, emphasis, and guidance. GAO also found that: (1) groundwater contamination and inactive waste sites were the plant's two major interrelated environmental contamination problems; and (2) DOE estimated that the cost to correct or reduce the contamination through 1995 would total $323 million and an additional $120 million to $180 million to complete corrective actions. In addition, GAO found that: (1) many of the plant buildings were built in 1950 and did not meet modern standards and codes; (2) building deterioration affected operations and many buildings needed considerable day-to-day maintenance; (3) DOE estimated that rebuilding and upgrading the plant would cost over $1 billion; and (4) DOE ordered the shutdown of operations in one building because of its inadequate radiological safety margins and its age.

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