Nuclear Waste: Issues Affecting the Opening of DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant - GAO Report
|Date:||July 21, 1995|
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Atomic energy defense activities
Nuclear facility safety
Nuclear waste disposal
Nuclear waste management
The Department of Energy (DOE) originally expected that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) (a geologic repository near Carlsbad, New Mexico, for the permanent disposal of transuranic nuclear waste such as tools, rags, paper and other material contaminated with long-lived radioactive elements), would be operational in 1988. DOE now expects that date to slip by at least 10 years. Pending legislation would transfer from the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Secretary of Energy the authority to determine if the facility complies with EPA's disposal regulations and establish the intention of Congress that the Secretary would make this determination by March 31, 1997, 9 months earlier than DOE currently expected to obtain a certificate of compliance from EPA's Administrator. GAO's current and previous reviews of WIPP have found that while compliance with environmental regulations is key to the opening of the facility, DOE has contributed to the delay through its early emphasis on construction and then on performing unnecessary tests with transuranic waste at the expense of attention to environmental compliance issues. Transferring the primary responsibility for certifying compliance with disposal standards to DOE might not shorten the resolution of the compliance issue if the transfer undermined public confidence in the decision. Finally, achieving the legislative objective of a decision on compliance with disposal standards in March 1997 would not necessarily ensure that WIPP opens then. Other elements of the disposal system need to be developed before waste can be processed and shipped to WIPP.