Nuclear Waste:

Quarterly Report as of March 31, 1990

RCED-91-55: Published: Feb 15, 1991. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Department of Energy's (DOE) implementation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, focusing on: (1) public comments regarding the Secretary of Energy's November 1989 report to Congress assessing the civilian nuclear waste program; (2) uncertainties regarding DOE criteria for identifying unsuitable site conditions at Yucca Mountain; and (3) how Nevada's refusal to allow DOE access to the Yucca Mountain site could affect its near-term site-investigation plans.

GAO found that: (1) public comments on the Secretary's report called for changes in the nuclear waste program, management restructuring, emphasis on scientific investigation of Yucca Mountain, and a proposal to develop a monitored retrieval storage (MRS) facility; (2) in general, respondents agreed with the DOE restructured program management plan, its efforts to implement a scientifically based investigation, and its revised schedule; (3) DOE received mixed comments on its plans to conduct surface tests of the mountain before constructing an exploratory shaft facility; (4) DOE received mixed views on its plan to separately develop an MRS facility from a repository, and some respondents were concerned that such an action could result in an MRS facility becoming a repository replacement; (5) DOE decided to use its own as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regulations for identifying unsuitable conditions; (6) DOE and Nevada were engaged in a legal battle over state environmental permits needed for site investigations, and DOE sought legislation enabling it to comply with permit requirements without Nevada's involvement; and (7) DOE believed that, if the site investigation was delayed, DOE may abandon surface-based testing, which could eliminate the possibility of identifying unsuitable site conditions before performing more costly underground work.

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