Hanford Waste Privatization

RCED-96-213R: Published: Aug 2, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 3, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) planned privatization of its Hanford tank waste cleanup effort. GAO noted that: (1) technical difficulties with DOE tank waste cleanup efforts have caused schedules delays, program component cancellation, and uncertainties about program costs; (2) DOE believes its phased approach and privatization strategy will help resolve these problems and control costs; (3) DOE prefers the phased approach because it believes this approach balances compliance with laws and regulations, health and environmental risks, and technological uncertainties; (4) although cost estimates under DOE privatization approach are subject to change, total costs under this approach are estimated to be $9.6 billion which is 28 percent less than the traditional approach; (5) regulatory and technical uncertainties could adversely affect the DOE privatization strategy; (6) to support privatization, DOE needs to ensure that certain tank waste operations are completed, state regulatory approval is obtained, and basic site support services are provided; (7) DOE is developing a fallback strategy, called the alternative path, which requires DOE to retain skilled cleanup staff during the first few years of privatization and considering alternative management approaches if privatization fails; and (8) DOE estimates that it could still meet its 2028 completion milestone under an alternative management approach but at a higher cost.

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