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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) civilian radioactive waste management program, focusing on: (1) DOE efforts to investigate the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, site; (2) DOE efforts to ensure the early identification, primarily through surface-based tests, of any conditions that could disqualify the site; and (3) the effects of delays in DOE obtaining environmental permits from Nevada.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy 1. To help DOE build public trust in its civilian nuclear waste management program through the dissemination of information, the Secretary of Energy should, in addition to obtaining comments from the public, NRC, and others on the DOE methodology for evaluating Yucca Mountain, obtain comments on the proposed DOE approach for site characterization, including its plans for: (1) prioritizing site characterization tests; (2) funding such tests; and (3) scheduling surface-based and underground tests.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOE stated that it had already established and implemented a policy for obtaining comments on its approach to site characterization. Therefore, DOE does not plan to take additional action on this recommendation.
Department of Energy 2. To help avoid, or possibly withstand, a legal challenge, the Secretary of Energy should, before officially adopting the site evaluation method, obtain an opinion from the DOE Office of the General Counsel that the methodology legally conforms to DOE siting guidelines.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOE has announced a change in its approach to evaluating the Yucca Mountain site. It intends to identify and prioritize the site investigation work that it believes is essential to making decisions on the suitability of the site for a repository and obtaining a construction authorization from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and defer other investigation work to the "performance confirmation period" during construction and operation of the repository. In making decisions on what investigation work must be done now and what can be deferred, DOE says it will consult with the Commission and the public.

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