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Nuclear Material: Several Potential Options for Dealing with DOE's Depleted Uranium Tails Could Benefit the Government

GAO-08-613T Published: Apr 03, 2008. Publicly Released: Apr 03, 2008.
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Since the 1940s, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been processing natural uranium into enriched uranium, which has a higher concentration of the isotope uranium-235 that can be used in nuclear weapons or reactors. This has resulted in over 700,000 metric tons of leftover depleted uranium, also known as "tails," that have varying residual concentrations uranium-235. The tails are stored at DOE's uranium enrichment plants in Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky. Although the tails have historically been considered a waste product and an environmental liability, recently an about tenfold increase in uranium prices may give DOE options to use some of the tails in ways that could provide revenue to the government. GAO's testimony is based on its March 31, 2008, report entitled Nuclear Material: DOE Has Several Potential Options for Dealing with Depleted Uranium Tails, Each of Which Could Benefit the Government (GAO-08-606R). The testimony focuses on (1) DOE's potential options for its tails and (2) the potential value of DOE's tails and factors that affect the value. It also contains an analysis of DOE's legal authority to carry out the potential options. In its report, GAO recommended that Congress consider clarifying DOE's statutory authority to manage depleted uranium. GAO also recommended that DOE complete a comprehensive uranium management assessment as soon as possible.

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