Nuclear Weapons:

Design Reviews of DOE's Tritium Extraction Facility

RCED-98-75: Published: Mar 31, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) plans to build a Tritium Extraction Facility at its Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the reports of three different teams responsible for reviewing the project's conceptual design and related products, focusing on: (1) the major comments raised by the three reviews; and (2) the process used by DOE to respond to those comments.

GAO noted that: (1) two of the teams that reviewed the Tritium Extraction Facility's conceptual design found the project's scope, cost, and schedule to be appropriate and found no issues that would necessitate reevaluating the project; (2) the third team made no overall comments on the project; (3) the three teams also had nearly 800 specific comments; (4) comments that the review teams considered to be significant related to: (a) the design of the remote handling and tritium extraction processes; (b) the need for the project's schedule to allow for contingencies that could occur in the process and equipment development; and (c) the adequacy of the level of detail in the conceptual design report; (5) DOE handled each review team's specific comments differently; (6) for one team, the Savannah River Project Office prepared a response to each comment, and DOE headquarters had three members of the original review team comment on the adequacy of the responses; (7) for comments made by the second team, the Project Office responded to all comments, but did not seek the team's review of the responses; (8) for the third review team's comments, DOE responded to each comment, but the design team has not yet reviewed the responses; (9) overall, DOE made many changes to the conceptual design because of the review teams' comments and appears to have been generally responsive to the comments; (10) however, some comments--such as the one related to a need to include contingencies in the projects' schedule--have not been resolved to the satisfaction of the review teams; and (11) nonetheless, DOE approved the conceptual design report and the project entered the preliminary design phase in October 1997.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has agreed to the recommendation as written.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish guidelines for formally responding to and reaching closure within a reasonable time frame on comments made during future independent design reviews of the Tritium Extraction Facility project.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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