Status of the Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

T-RCED-89-50: Published: Jun 12, 1989. Publicly Released: Jun 12, 1989.

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GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) plan for a 5-year test of its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's (WIPP): (1) compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) nuclear waste disposal standards; and (2) waste handling, transportation, and storage activities. GAO noted that the draft plan: (1) did not consider the waste retrieval costs and activities that would be necessary if WIPP did not meet EPA standards; (2) called for storage of waste exceeding that needed to test compliance with EPA standards so that DOE could conduct operational demonstration activities which were not essential to assessing safe WIPP operation; and (3) did not adequately support the proposed experiments and the quantities of waste DOE planned to store for testing. GAO believes that, before Congress can approve the proposed DOE test program: (1) DOE needs to complete the plan, consider state and academy reviews of the plan, and provide Congress with specific information on alternative actions in case of WIPP noncompliance with EPA standards; and (2) Congress needs to enact legislation allowing DOE to store wastes at WIPP if it complies with EPA standards.

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