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Nuclear Waste Cleanup: Hanford Site Cleanup Costs Continue to Rise, but Opportunities Exist to Save Tens of Billions of Dollars

GAO-22-105809 Published: Jul 29, 2022. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2022.
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Fast Facts

One of the largest, most expensive cleanup projects in the world is at the Department of Energy's Hanford Site in Washington State. This report describes the status of DOE's efforts to clean up 54 million gallons of hazardous and radioactive waste stored at the site.

We found that DOE's plans for addressing the waste assume significant funding increases in the next 10 years.

This report notes that our prior recommendations could save tens of billions of dollars and reduce certain risks if implemented. For example, Congress could consider clarifying DOE's authority to manage and dispose of some of this waste in a less costly way.

The Hanford Site in Washington State

Construction site with scaffolding and crane

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What GAO Found

We found that the Department of Energy (DOE) continues to face cost increases and delays in its efforts to address 54 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in tanks at the Hanford Site in Washington State. We also found that Congress and DOE could take steps now that could potentially save tens of billions of dollars in cleanup costs for this waste.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Hanford Site is home to one of the largest and most expensive environmental cleanup projects in the world. After decades of research and production of weapons-grade nuclear materials at the 586-square-mile campus ceased in the late 1980s, DOE began cleanup of hazardous and radioactive waste created as a byproduct of producing nuclear weapons. This waste must be retrieved and treated—or immobilized—before disposal, according to legal requirements and agreements made with federal and state environmental regulators. The Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant is DOE's current planned approach to treating Hanford's tank waste.

Senate Report 117-39 includes a provision for us to continue periodic briefings on the treatment of waste at the Hanford Site. This report describes the status of DOE's cleanup efforts at the Hanford Site, focusing particularly on the approaches, costs, and alternatives for the tank waste cleanup mission.

For more information, contact Nathan Anderson at (202) 512-3841 or

Full Report

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Environmental cleanupsEnvironmental liabilitiesNuclear wasteNuclear waste disposalRadioactive materialsRadioactive wastesStorage tanksWaste managementWaste treatmentWaste treatment plantCost savings