Nuclear Waste:

Change in Test Strategy Sound, but DOE Overstated Savings

RCED-95-44: Published: Dec 27, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 27, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) decision to abandon underground testing of nuclear wastes at its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in favor of laboratory-based tests, focusing on whether: (1) the decision is scientifically sound; and (2) DOE projected cost and time savings estimates are realistic.

GAO found that: (1) scientists, experts, regulators, and others interested in WIPP generally feel that the DOE decision to discontinue underground tests is sound; (2) laboratory testing appears to be more scientifically viable and can be more safely controlled than underground testing; (3) DOE projected cost savings are not realistic, since they are based on incomplete and inconsistent documentation; (4) DOE projected savings are questionable, since DOE could incur new costs for initiatives related to the cancellation of underground testing; (5) DOE will not achieve its objective of opening WIPP by January 1998, but it could begin disposal operations by 2000; and (6) numerous unresolved issues, both within and beyond DOE control, could affect DOE disposal operations at WIPP.

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