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Highlights

GAO has reported on limitations in the management of U.S. low-level radioactive waste (LLRW). LLRW ranges from very low-activity to higher-activity waste. To identify potential approaches to overcome these limitations, GAO was asked to examine the extent to which other countries have (1) LLRW inventory databases, (2) timely removal of higher-activity LLRW from waste generator sites, (3) disposition options for all LLRW, and (4) requirements that LLRW generators have financial reserves to cover waste disposition costs, as well as any other approaches that might improve U.S. LLRW management. GAO primarily relied on a survey of 18 countries representing leading LLRW generators to identify their management approaches and to compare them with U.S. survey results and with approaches suggested by LLRW generators, disposal operators, and regulators in the United States.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy In order to improve the management of LLRW in the United States and address a potential shortfall of disposal availability for higher-activity LLRW in 2008 and other management concerns, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Secretary of Energy should evaluate and report back to the Congress within one year on the usefulness to the United States of adopting the LLRW management approaches used in the countries discussed in this report, and the steps and any authorities necessary for their implementation, if deemed appropriate.
Closed - Implemented
DOE accepted GAO's recommendation for continued evaluation of international nuclear waste disposal practices, but it disagreed with the need to specifically report to Congress. Rather than issuing a report to Congress, DOE explained that it would be pleased to discuss the waste management approaches surveyed by GAO rather than expend resources needed for cleanup efforts to produce a final report. However, in a report to Congress dated March 28, 2008, the NRC provided an assessment to both of our report recommendations. In developing its response, the NRC staff coordinated with DOE staff on portions of the report that address DOE responsibilities related to commercial LLRW. NRC staff incorporated DOE suggestions on these areas into the report.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission In order to improve the management of LLRW in the United States and address a potential shortfall of disposal availability for higher-activity LLRW in 2008 and other management concerns, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Secretary of Energy should evaluate and report back to the Congress within one year on the usefulness to the United States of adopting the LLRW management approaches used in the countries discussed in this report, and the steps and any authorities necessary for their implementation, if deemed appropriate.
Closed - Implemented
In March 2008, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a report that included an analysis of both of these recommendations. In developing its response, the NRC staff coordinated with DOE staff on portions of the report that address DOE responsibilities related to commercial LLRW. NRC staff incorporated DOE suggestions on these areas into the report. In summary, the report found that 2 of 5 foreign approaches--waste management plans and waste inventories--would be of limited use in the U.S. The report also noted that the other approaches are either used in the U.S. already or are currently being formally evaluated.
Department of Energy In order to improve the management of LLRW in the United States and address a potential shortfall of disposal availability for higher-activity LLRW in 2008 and other management concerns, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Secretary of Energy should evaluate and report back to the Congress within one year on the usefulness to the United States of developing a U.S. radioactive waste management plan, and the potential costs, steps, and any authorities necessary to develop such a plan, if deemed appropriate.
Closed - Implemented
DOE accepted GAO's recommendation for continued evaluation of international nuclear waste disposal practices, but it disagreed with the need to specifically report to Congress. Rather than issuing a report to Congress, DOE explained that it would be pleased to discuss the waste management approaches surveyed by GAO rather than expend resources needed for cleanup efforts to produce a final report. However, in a report to Congress dated March 28, 2008, the NRC provided an assessment to both of our report recommendations. In developing its response, the NRC staff coordinated with DOE staff on portions of the report that address DOE responsibilities related to commercial LLRW. NRC staff incorporated DOE suggestions on these areas into the report.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission In order to improve the management of LLRW in the United States and address a potential shortfall of disposal availability for higher-activity LLRW in 2008 and other management concerns, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Secretary of Energy should evaluate and report back to the Congress within one year on the usefulness to the United States of developing a U.S. radioactive waste management plan, and the potential costs, steps, and any authorities necessary to develop such a plan, if deemed appropriate.
Closed - Implemented
In March 2008, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a report that included an analysis of both of these recommendations. In developing its response, the NRC staff coordinated with DOE staff on portions of the report that address DOE responsibilities related to commercial LLRW. NRC staff incorporated DOE suggestions on these areas into the report. In summary, the report found that 2 of 5 foreign approaches--waste management plans and waste inventories--would be of limited use in the U.S. The report also noted that the other approaches are either used in the U.S. already or are currently being formally evaluated.

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