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Highlights

GAO discussed legislation to amend the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Land Withdrawal Act, and issues that the Department of Energy (DOE) must address to begin operating the facility. GAO noted that: (1) the key to the timely opening of WIPP is to ensure that the nuclear waste facility complies with environmental requirements; (2) transferring the primary responsibility for certifying compliance with disposal standards to the Secretary of Energy will not necessarily shorten the resolution of compliance issues if the transfer undermines public confidence; (3) making a decision on compliance with disposal standards will not ensure the opening of WIPP by the projected date; (4) other issues such as waste retrieval and storage may affect DOE ability to open WIPP; (5) it has not been determined whether the facilities that generate transuranic waste have the capabilities to characterize and package the waste; (6) in the future, DOE will have to have an adequate transportation infrastructure in place to ship waste to WIPP; and (7) it is unclear how proposed budget reductions will affect the timely and efficient operation of the transuranic waste disposal system.

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