Nuclear Safety: DOE's Investigation of Phosgene Gas Contamination Was Inadequate, but Experts Conclude That Worker Safety and Facilities Are Not Threatened

GAO-07-712 Published: May 31, 2007. Publicly Released: May 31, 2007.
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Highlights

More than 700,000 tons of uranium are stored at two Department of Energy (DOE) sites where uranium enrichment took place and where two facilities are being constructed to treat depleted uranium. Some of the storage cylinders for uranium came from the Army more than 50 years ago and may originally have contained phosgene, a toxic gas used as a chemical weapon in World War I. In September 2005, DOE's Inspector General issued an alert warning that residual phosgene, if present, could threaten the safety of people and the treatment facilities. GAO was directed to review DOE's investigation of possible phosgene contamination of uranium storage cylinders. GAO consulted a panel of experts to assess the adequacy of DOE's investigation and whether possible phosgene contamination could threaten the new treatment facilities under construction.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy To ensure the comprehensiveness and technical adequacy of investigations of potentially unsafe situations at DOE's nuclear facilities, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that safety investigations benefit from a review process that includes reviewers who are sufficiently independent of the investigations being done.
Closed - Implemented
In November 2010, the Department of Energy (DOE)issued new guidance on developing technical safety requirements for nuclear facilities--DOE G 423.1-1A "Implementation Guide for Use in Developing Technical Safety Requirements." This guidance described the process for conducting safety investigations of potentially unsafe situations at DOE's nuclear facilities. The guidance provides for independent reviews of technical safety requirements and stipulates that "Individual reviewers should not review their own work or work for which they have direct responsibility."
Department of Energy To ensure the comprehensiveness and technical adequacy of investigations of potentially unsafe situations at DOE's nuclear facilities, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that safety investigations benefit from a review process that provides objective evaluations of the methodologies being used and the findings and conclusions reached.
Closed - Implemented
In November 2010, the Department of Energy (DOE)issued new guidance on developing technical safety requirements for nuclear facilities--DOE G 423.1-1A "Implementation Guide for Use in Developing Technical Safety Requirements." This guidance described the process for conducting safety investigations of potentially unsafe situations at DOE's nuclear facilities. The guidance states that independent reviews should be conducted of safety investigations and that these reviews should include objective reviews of "unresolved safety question determinations; proposed tests and experiments; procedures; programs; facility changes and modifications; technical safety requirements changes; facility operation, maintenance, and testing; DOE and industry issues of safety significance; and any other safety-related items."

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