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Highlights

Potentially dangerous sealed sources containing greater-than-Class-C radioactive material pose a threat to national security because terrorists could use them to make "dirty bombs." Public Law 99-240 requires the Department of Energy (DOE) provide a facility for disposing of unwanted sources. Because DOE has no disposal facility for these sources, its Off-Site Source Recovery Project is recovering and temporarily storing them at Los Alamos, New Mexico. GAO was asked to determine (1) the number of unwanted sealed sources that DOE plans to recover through 2010 and the estimated cost, (2) the status of recovery efforts and any problems that DOE may face, and (3) the status of DOE's efforts to provide a disposal facility for these sealed sources

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy Because of the risk that unwanted greater-than-Class-C sealed sources could be used as weapons of terror, the Secretary of Energy should determine whether the priority given to the Off-Site Source Recovery Project is commensurate with the threat posed by these sealed sources.
Closed - Implemented
On October 28, 2004, DOE's Undersecretary for Energy, Science and Environment sent a memorandum to DOE's Acting Director, Office of Management, Budget and Evaluation/Acting Chief Financial Officer stating that the Office of Environmental Management and the National Nuclear Security Administration have agreed to realign management responsibility for the Off-Site Source Recovery Project. The Project is now located in the Office of Global Nuclear Materials Disposition and Threat Reduction.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should initiate the process to develop a permanent disposal facility for greater-than-Class-C radioactive waste to carry out the requirements of Public Law 99-240.
Closed - Implemented
In December 2003, the responsibility for the analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to develop a permanent disposal facility for the greater-than-class-C radioactive waste was moved to DOE's Office of Environment, Safety, and Health. The office initiated the process to publish an Advance Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.
Department of Energy Once this determination has been made, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that adequate resources are devoted to the project to cover the costs of recovering and storing these sealed sources as quickly as possible.
Closed - Implemented
On October 28, 2003, DOE's Undersecretary for Energy, Science and Environment sent a memorandum to DOE's Acting Director, Office of Management, Budget and Evaluation/Acting Chief Financial Officer stating that the Office of Environmental Management and the National Nuclear Security Administration have agreed to realign management responsibility for the Off-Site Source Recovery Project. The Project is now located in the Office of Global Nuclear Materials Disposition and Threat Reduction.
Department of Energy To ensure that unwanted greater-than-Class-C sealed sources containing plutonium-239, strontium-90, and cesium-137 are properly secured to prevent their use in dirty bombs or, in the case of sources containing plutonium-239, nuclear weapons, the Secretary of Energy should take immediate action to provide storage space for these sources at a secure DOE facility and establish milestones by which progress can be measured to ensure that the storage space is provided as soon as possible.
Closed - Implemented
DOE completed the requirements for accepting plutonium-239 at Los Alamos National Laboratory and began recovering plutonium-239 sources as of November 2003. In February, the Off-Site Source Recovery Project started recovery of strontium-90 sources. It will begin recovering cesium-137 in September 2004.
Department of Energy To help manage the process, the Secretary should develop a plan that would, at a minimum, assign responsibility for developing the facility; establish milestones by which progress can be measured; evaluate potential disposal options; estimate costs and schedules; and address legislative, regulatory, and licensing considerations.
Closed - Not Implemented
The secretary assigned responsiblity for this. The remainder of the recommendation will be addressed in the environmental impact statement when it is prepared.
Department of Energy Because it is unlikely that a permanent disposal facility for such waste will be operational by fiscal year 2007, when the Off-Site Source Recovery Project is scheduled to begin phasing out operations, the Secretary of Energy should develop a plan to ensure the continued recovery and storage of greater-than-Class-C sealed sources until a disposal facility is available.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOE officials told GAO that the Off-Site Source Recovery Project would continue. However, no plan had been developed to date.

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