Nuclear Health and Safety:

Problems Continue for Rocky Flats Solar Pond Cleanup Program

RCED-92-18: Published: Oct 17, 1991. Publicly Released: Nov 26, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided updated information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) progress in cleaning up solar evaporation ponds at its Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, focusing on the: (1) estimated cost of the project; (2) status of the detailed plans for conducting and monitoring the program; (3) status of clean-up activities; and (4) specific milestones that DOE has met or missed in conducting pondcrete activities.

GAO found that: (1) although DOE stated in its press release that it has imposed strict cost control measures, the most recent DOE cost data show that the total cost for the solar ponds clean-up program has escalated to an estimated $169 million through completion in 2009; (2) DOE attributes this $50-million increase in program costs to increased labor costs, higher inspection and maintenance expenses, and the inclusion of waste burial expenses in the program's costs; (3) delays occurred in the completion and approval of the management plans for conducting and monitoring the program; (4) final approval of the project management plan was delayed to incorporate the activities of a subcontractor and did not occur until September 1991; (5) according to DOE officials, pondcrete clean-up activities that were expected to resume by December 1990 had not begun; (6) DOE will not finish cleaning up the ponds and moving all pondcrete off site by October 1991, the first major milestone related to the solar ponds program; and (7) unless DOE provides adequate project funding or resolves concerns over pondcrete disposal in Nevada, it will not finish pondcrete processing before Rocky Flats' interim status permit for pondcrete operations expires in November 1992.