Nuclear Cleanup: Preliminary Results of the Review of the Department of Energy's Rocky Flats Closure Projects

GAO-05-1044R Published: Sep 22, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2005.
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For about 40 years, the Department of Energy's Rocky Flats site, near Denver, served as a production facility that made plutonium triggers, or "pits," for nuclear weapons. That role resulted in radiological and chemical contamination of many of the site's buildings and its soil and water. Cleanup of the site, which commenced in 1996, has been a monumental undertaking. The cleanup is being conducted under the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement, which is the legally binding agreement that provides the framework for the cleanup effort. The cleanup agreement specifies the roles of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the two regulatory agencies for the site: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (Colorado). In February 2001, when GAO last reported on DOE's project to clean up and close the Rocky Flats site, the project was slightly over cost and behind schedule. The vast amount of work remaining to be done at that time, along with various major challenges facing the cleanup contractor, made it doubtful that the contractor could achieve its December 2006 closure goal. But now the contractor hired by DOE (Kaiser-Hill Company, L.L.C.) plans to complete the physical cleanup portion of the work early and under budget. The regulatory agencies' final decision on the adequacy of the cleanup will take another year or so after completion of the physical cleanup, and the majority of the planned wildlife refuge will not open to the public for at least 5 years. In this context, Congress asked us to determine (1) the key factors that contributed to the progress of the Rocky Flats cleanup; (2) when the Rocky Flats cleanup is scheduled to be completed, and at what total cost, including long-term stewardship costs; and (3) what measures DOE and the regulatory agencies are taking to determine that the cleanup will achieve a level of protection of public health and environment consistent with the cleanup agreement.

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