Plutonium is very hazardous to human health and the environment and requires extensive security because of its potential use in a nuclear weapon. The Department of Energy (DOE) stores about 50 metric tons of plutonium that is no longer needed by the United States for nuclear weapons. Some of this plutonium is contaminated metal, oxides, solutions, and residues remaining from the nuclear weapons production process. To improve security and reduce plutonium storage costs, DOE plans to establish enough storage capacity at its Savannah River Site (SRS) in the event it decides to consolidate its plutonium at SRS until it can be permanently disposed of in a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which DOE can consolidate this plutonium at SRS and (2) SRS's capacity to monitor plutonium storage containers.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Energy||To ensure the continued safe and secure storage of DOE's excess plutonium inventories, the Secretary of Energy should develop a comprehensive strategy for the consolidation, storage, and disposition of DOE's excess plutonium. In particular, this strategy should assess the storage, monitoring, and security capabilities of all of DOE's sites currently storing plutonium. Furthermore, the strategy should analyze the environmental impact, national security implications, costs, and schedules to safely consolidate, store, and eventually dispose of DOE's plutonium at existing facilities and/or at a new storage facility constructed at one of its sites.|
|Department of Energy||When this comprehensive strategy is completed, to ensure the continued safe and secure storage of DOE's excess plutonium inventories, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that each of DOE's facilities' cleanup plans are reviewed to ensure that each site's cleanup goals and time frames are consistent with the department's comprehensive strategy for plutonium consolidation, storage, and disposition.|