Nuclear Science:

Monitoring Improved, but More Planning Needed for DOE Test and Research Reactors

RCED-92-123: Published: Jul 15, 1992. Publicly Released: Aug 17, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) nondefense-related nuclear facilities, focusing on: (1) DOE management and long-range planning for replacement of potentially dangerous and aging reactors; and (2) the safety and operating condition of research reactor facilities.

GAO found that: (1) DOE has no plans for the retirement or replacement of its aging nondefense research and test reactors; (2) diminishing demand and increasing operating costs force DOE to decide which research and test reactors to maintain or replace; (3) considering the relatively small number of reactors and specialized reactor functions, formal long-range retirement or replacement plans are unnecessary; (4) deterioration of reactors causes safety problems, reduces reactor performance, increases operating safety costs and causes gaps in service to researchers; and (5) DOE safety oversight of nondefense reactors is improving, but continued problems exist.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE accepted the GAO recommendation and prepared a long-range plan for the retirement or replacement of its test and research reactors. DOE published its plan on November 22, 1993.

    Recommendation: To avoid possible degradation in safe operation, increased operating costs, degradation in performance, and gaps in needed reactor service, the Secretary of Energy should require that the manager of DOE test and research reactor facilities develop a long-range plan for the timely retirement or replacement of aging reactors. In their analysis of the possible need to eventually replace the Department's two older operating category "A" test reactors, DOE planners should consider the cost and benefits of using the Fast Flux Test Facility, now on standby, as a possible replacement rather than constructing a newer, more extensive reactor.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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