Nuclear Waste:

Delays in Addressing Environmental Requirements and New Safety Concerns Affect DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

T-RCED-91-67: Published: Jun 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 1991.

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GAO discussed the status of the Department of Energy's (DOE) program for conducting transuranic (TRU) waste disposal tests at its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). GAO noted that: (1) DOE cannot use the WIPP repository until the facility meets environmental requirements and DOE resolves safety concerns; (2) from 1981 through 1988, DOE focused on building WIPP and failed to consider environmental compliance issues; (3) in 1989, DOE proposed to test TRU waste in WIPP to determine compliance with environmental requirements, but delayed the tests until it could determine that WIPP would comply with environmental standards; (4) technical problems delaying the tests included gases generated by TRU wastes, the interaction of brine with TRU wastes, and obtaining waste samples characteristics of the waste to be stored at WIPP; (5) the natural movement of rock surrounding underground storage areas raised questions regarding the safety of waste storage operations and the retrieval of wastes after the tests; (6) DOE has not identified where it will store TRU waste in the event that WIPP fails to meet environmental requirements; and (7) temporary storage of TRU wastes has become a contentious issue betweeen DOE and states hosting temporary storage facilities.

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