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Nuclear Waste: DOE's Efforts to Protect the Columbia River from Contamination Could Be Further Strengthened

GAO-06-1018 Published: Aug 28, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 05, 2006.
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The Department of Energy's (DOE) Hanford site in Washington State is one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in North America. The Columbia River flows through about 50 miles of the site. Radioactive and hazardous contamination from decades of producing nuclear materials for the nation's defense have migrated through the soil into the groundwater, which generally flows toward the river. In November 2005, GAO reported on the potential for the Hanford site to contaminate the Columbia River. To address continuing concerns, GAO reviewed the status of DOE's efforts to (1) understand the risk to the Columbia River from Hanford site contamination and to deploy effective technologies to address contamination near the river and (2) strengthen the management of its river protection program. To assess DOE's efforts, GAO reviewed numerous reports by DOE and others, and discussed the problem with federal and state regulators and DOE officials.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy To increase the likelihood that DOE will effectively implement and sustain improvements in its program to protect the Columbia River from contamination at the Hanford site, the Secretary of Energy should strengthen the management improvement plan by establishing results-oriented performance measures and regular evaluations to gauge the program's effectiveness.
Closed – Implemented
To respond to GAO's recommendation to strengthen its management improvement plan for its Hanford groundwater program, DOE developed a Hanford site-wide Groundwater Management Plan, which was issued in final form in October 2007. This plan contains integrated schedules for all groundwater and vadose zone work, and implements a set of results-oriented performance measures by which DOE will track the progress of its efforts.

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ContaminantsContaminationEnvironmental cleanupsEnvironmental protectionGroundwaterNuclear waste managementProgram evaluationProgram managementRadioactive waste disposalRiversSoil pollutionWater pollutionWater pollution control