Nuclear Health and Safety:

Better Earthquake Protection Needed at DOE's Savannah River Site

RCED-90-24: Published: Dec 26, 1989. Publicly Released: Mar 6, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Department of Energy's (DOE) ability to ensure employee and public safety in the event of a major earthquake at its Savannah River site.

GAO found that: (1) DOE found many serious seismic weaknesses in the site's reactors, which were built before seismic engineering standards existed; (2) some safety-related systems, equipment, and structures did not meet current seismic engineering standards, since DOE did not have a comprehensive seismic safety program; (3) the Office of Environment, Health and Safety's (ES&H) involvement in operational planning and reactor start-up impaired its independent oversight role; and (4) although DOE has issued guidance indicating a shift in nuclear safety oversight functions, it may not be able to fully implement the guidance due to lack of resources.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed and is implementing an overall seismic program for the site's reactors and other high-risk facilities. The program includes updating of criteria as well as peer review and oversight.

    Recommendation: To help ensure employee and public safety in the event of a major Savannah River site earthquake, the Secretary of Energy should establish a comprehensive, systematic seismic program for the reactors and other high-risk nuclear facilities at Savannah River. The program should include updating of seismic criteria and site engineering standards as necessary, as well as appropriate ongoing independent oversight to help ensure its adequacy and timely implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the course of facility modifications at several sites, DOE has conducted seismic program assessments and suggested upgrades. Criteria and engineering standards have been updated.

    Recommendation: Because earthquake potential exists at other locations, the Secretary of Energy should conduct an examination to determine the need to upgrade seismic programs at DOE locations with high-risk nuclear facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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