Ineffective Management and Oversight of DOE's P-Reactor at Savannah River, S.C., Raises Safety Concern

T-RCED-88-68: Published: Sep 30, 1988. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1988.

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GAO discussed the recent events surrounding the start-up of the Department of Energy's (DOE) P-reactor at the Savannah River Plant, focusing on how well DOE managed the contractors who operated the facility. GAO found that: (1) reactor operators failed to inform either management or DOE of a restart problem until the nuclear reactor shut itself down; (2) reactor operators did not inform DOE of a small power increase until the next day; and (3) DOE ordered the reactor shut down until the contractor could address DOE safety and communications concerns. GAO also found that: (1) DOE and the contractor failed to ensure start-up operational safety; (2) DOE and the contractor failed to properly calculate start-up reactivity; and (3) DOE approved the restart based on the contractor's explanation without an assessment or complete understanding of the explanation. GAO believes that DOE needs: (1) strong line-management responsibility and accountability for safety; (2) an effective environmental safety and health organization to oversee how line management carries out its role; (3) an independent organization outside DOE control to oversee the DOE internal safety program; and (4) to ensure that it addresses safety concerns in a timely and effective manner.

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