Radioactive Waste:

EPA Standards Delayed by Low Priority and Coordination Problems

RCED-93-126: Published: Jun 3, 1993. Publicly Released: Jul 7, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) progress in developing radiation protection standards, focusing on: (1) the length of time EPA needed to issue standards on high-level and low-level waste, groundwater protection at uranium-processing sites, and residual radiation; (2) issues that affect the development of these standards; and (3) radiation laboratories' activities related to the development of radiation protection standards.

GAO found that: (1) EPA development of radiation protection standards for high-level waste, low-level waste, inactive uranium-processing sites, and residual radiation has been delayed; (2) radiation protection standards for high-level waste are near completion; (3) factors that delayed EPA radiation standards development included the low priority assigned to radiation standards development, limited EPA resources, an inability to resolve interagency conflicts over the standards' content, a lack of interagency coordination, and the failure to conduct adequate cost/benefit analyses during Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reviews; (4) EPA radiation laboratories are generally not involved in setting radiation standards because standards development is not their mission; and (5) EPA laboratories' primary activities include monitoring environmental radiation levels, testing radon detection equipment for accuracy, and responding to nuclear emergencies.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA and OMB have resolved their differences on groundwater protection standards for inactive uranium processing sites. Final groundwater protection standards were published in the Federal Register on January 11, 1995.

    Recommendation: In the case of the groundwater protection standards for inactive uranium-processing sites, where EPA and OMB program officials have been unable to resolve fundamental disagreements in a timely manner and where Congress has expressed its intention for expeditious issuance, the Administrator, EPA, should meet with the Director, OMB, to resolve these differences.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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