Excess Uranium Inventories: Clarifying DOE's Disposition Options Could Help Avoid Further Legal Violations

GAO-11-846 Published: Sep 26, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2011.
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Uranium is a key component in the production of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. The Department of Energy (DOE) manages the nation's surplus uranium, which is derived in part from former nuclear weapons production. In 2008, DOE published a uranium management plan that set a target for DOE uranium sales and transfers to avert harm to the domestic uranium industry. In 2009, DOE began using natural uranium to pay for cleanup work at a former uranium enrichment facility in Ohio, without having identified such transactions in its 2008 plan. As directed, GAO reviewed DOE's uranium management program. This report examines (1) DOE's uranium transactions and plans for future transactions, (2) the extent to which these transactions were consistent with DOE's uranium management plan, and (3) the extent to which these transactions were consistent with federal law. GAO reviewed transaction documents and contracts and interviewed knowledgeable DOE, contractor, and uranium industry officials and uranium market analysts.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
If Congress sees merit in using proceeds from the barter, transfer, or sale of federal uranium assets to pay for environmental cleanup of uranium enrichment facilities, it may wish to consider: (1) providing DOE with explicit authority to barter excess uranium and to retain the proceeds from barters, transfers, or sales or (2) directing DOE to sell federal uranium assets for cash and directing that collected proceeds be made available for obligation only to the extent and in the amount provided in advance in appropriations acts for necessary expenses in decontaminating and decommissioning uranium facilities and directing DOE to deposit into the Treasury any excess over what is appropriated.
Closed – Not Implemented
No legislative action identified. As of January 2018, Congress had not passed legislation providing DOE with explicit authority to barter excess uranium and to retain the proceeds from the three types of uranium transactions, as GAO suggested in September 2011. Since GAO's 2011 report, both the uranium market and DOE's uranium needs have changed. Market prices for uranium have decreased, and the composition of DOE's depleted uranium tails' inventory has changed, thereby lowering the value of DOE's remaining inventory. For example, in 2012, DOE transferred some of its most valuable depleted uranium tails for enrichment by a third party. In addition, when GAO's 2011 report was issued, the United States still had a domestic uranium enrichment capability to support both commercial and national security needs for enriched uranium. This is no longer the case, and DOE may now need to retain its excess uranium inventory to meet national security needs. Because of the significant change of circumstances, GAO has closed this action as not addressed.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy To improve DOE's management of its excess uranium inventories, the Secretary of Energy should update the December 2008 "Excess Uranium Inventory Management Plan" to more accurately reflect DOE's plans for marketing its uranium.
Closed – Implemented
DOE released an updated "Excess Uranium Inventory Management Plan" in July 2013 to replace the December 2008 plan.

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