Nuclear Waste:

Issues Affecting Land Withdrawal of DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Project

T-RCED-91-38: Published: Apr 16, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 16, 1991.

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GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). GAO noted that: (1) by fiscal year (FY) 1997, DOE plans to determine whether WIPP meets the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) standards for disposal of transuranic waste in repositories and plans to obtain a variance or exception from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); (2) DOE postponed plans to demonstrate large-scale waste handling and storage operations until after it determines that WIPP will comply with EPA standards; (3) DOE issued a test plan that reduced the proposed amount of waste to about 1 percent of facility capacity, but it could not determine the exact quantity of waste to be stored until after the compliance determination; and (4) DOE issued a plan describing the decisionmaking process it would follow in deciding where to store the wastes if retrieval became necessary. GAO believes that: (1) DOE needed to demonstrate to EPA that the hazardous wastes would not migrate beyond the WIPP boundary for as long as they remain hazardous to obtain an RCRA exception; (2) the nature and significance of WIPP storage issues warranted congressional input and direction, rather than administrative action; and (3) DOE should address storage issues now before it needs to retrieve and store it elsewhere.

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