oversight

Radioactive Waste: DOE Has Acted to Address Delay in New Facility at Livermore Laboratory, but Challenges Remain

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-05-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States General Accounting Office

GAO          Report to the Honorable Ellen
             Tauscher, House of Representatives



May 2003
             RADIOACTIVE
             WASTE
             DOE Has Acted to
             Address Delay in New
             Facility at Livermore
             Laboratory, but
             Challenges Remain




GAO-03-558
                                               May 2003


                                               RADIOACTIVE WASTE

                                               DOE Has Acted to Address Delay in New
Highlights of GAO-03-558, a report to the      Facility at Livermore Laboratory, but
Honorable Ellen Tauscher, House of
Representatives                                Challenges Remain



The Department of Energy’s (DOE)               The delay in initiating storage and treatment operations at the new facility
Lawrence Livermore National                    occurred because DOE managers did not ensure timely resolution of
Laboratory in Livermore,                       disagreements with the laboratory over technical issues affecting safety at
California, generates radioactive              the facility’s waste storage building. Safety documents must be approved by
and hazardous wastes in the course             DOE to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities before operations can
of its research dealing with nuclear
weapons. The laboratory’s new
                                               begin. The review of the storage building safety document lasted a year and
Decontamination and Waste                      resulted in postponement of the review of the safety document for the
Treatment Facility is a $62 million            treatment buildings, which in turn delayed operation of the treatment
complex that includes buildings                buildings.
designed for both temporarily
storing waste and treating it for off-         The delay in initiating treatment operations has had two main effects. First,
site disposal. Although                        the laboratory has had to continue its waste treatment activities at an older
construction was completed in                  facility, which has fewer environmental and worker protections. Second, the
2001, the storage building did not             delay in initiating treatment operations has postponed off-site disposal of
begin operating until September                some of the waste.
2002, and the treatment buildings
remain unused to this day. GAO
was asked to identify the cause of
                                               DOE and the laboratory have taken or are planning to take steps to address
the delay in initiating storage and            the delay in an effort to begin treatment operations at the new facility by the
treatment operations at the facility,          current deadline of August 2003, but officials believe that meeting the
the effects of the delay in initiating         deadline will be challenging. One step that DOE is taking to prevent further
treatment operations, and the steps            delay is to improve its oversight so that any future disagreements are
taken to ensure that the latest                resolved in a timely manner. However, to meet the deadline, the laboratory
estimated date for initiating                  has compressed the time allowed for other tasks. In this regard, the
treatment operations at the facility           laboratory has altered the time to prepare for an operational readiness
can be met.                                    review—a process needed to ensure that the facility will be operated
                                               safely—from the normal 6 weeks to 2 weeks. Officials describe the
                                               scheduled start date as challenging but achievable.

                                               DOE generally agreed with the accuracy of the report. GAO incorporated
                                               DOE’s comments as appropriate.

                                               Livermore Laboratory Decontamination and Waste Treatment Facility




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-558.

To view the full report, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Robin Nazzaro
at (202) 512-3841 or nazzaror@gao.gov.
Contents


Letter                                                                                   1
               Results in Brief                                                          2
               Background                                                                3
               Delay Occurred because DOE Managers Did Not Resolve
                 Disagreements in a Timely Manner                                        8
               Delay in Initiating Treatment Operations Postponed Use of Safety
                 Improvements and Off-Site Disposal of Some Waste                      12
               DOE Has Improved Review and Oversight of Laboratory Safety
                 Documents, but Time Remaining Will Make It Challenging to
                 Meet the August 2003 Deadline for Starting Treatment
                 Operations                                                            13
               Agency Comments and Our Response                                        14

Appendix I     Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                       17



Appendix II    Comments from the Department of Energy                                   18



Appendix III   GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                   20



Figures
               Figure 1: Current Outdoor Waste Storage                                   5
               Figure 2: Current Waste Storage under Tent                                6
               Figure 3: Decontamination and Waste Treatment Facility (DWTF)
                        Site Plan                                                        7
               Figure 4: New Facility’s Treatment Area for Liquid Waste                  8




               Page i                                         GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
Abbreviations

DOE Department of Energy
NNSA National Nuclear Security Administration
RCRA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act




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Page ii                                                    GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   May 15, 2003

                                   The Honorable Ellen Tauscher
                                   House of Representatives

                                   Dear Ms. Tauscher:

                                   The Department of Energy (DOE) has a complex of sites and facilities for
                                   designing nuclear weapons and producing the nuclear components for
                                   these weapons. One part of that complex is DOE’s weapons laboratories,
                                   including the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Located in
                                   Livermore, California, the laboratory conducts research on nuclear
                                   weapons and other areas in the interest of national security. In carrying
                                   out these activities, the laboratory creates radioactive waste (such as rags
                                   and tools contaminated with uranium or plutonium), hazardous waste
                                   (such as acids and solvents), and mixed waste (waste with both
                                   radioactive and hazardous material). Before this waste can be permanently
                                   disposed of, its contents must be analyzed to determine the specific
                                   physical, chemical, and radiological components, and some of the waste
                                   must be treated so that it meets the acceptance criteria of off-site disposal
                                   facilities. While the Livermore laboratory has been able to analyze and
                                   treat some of its wastes for off-site disposal, it has not been able to analyze
                                   and treat all of the various kinds of wastes it generates. As a result, some
                                   of the waste has remained on-site since the mid-1980s. The California
                                   Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the storage and
                                   treatment of hazardous and mixed waste in the state, has given the
                                   laboratory permission to store hazardous and mixed waste in containers
                                   outdoors on pads or in tent structures. In addition, DOE has authorized
                                   the laboratory to store radioactive waste in a similar manner. However, for
                                   a number of years DOE has planned to improve the laboratory’s ability to
                                   process its wastes for off-site shipment and thereby reduce the need for
                                   on-site storage.

                                   In the mid-1990s, DOE and the Livermore laboratory began building a new
                                   facility to treat the laboratory’s wastes. Called the Decontamination and
                                   Waste Treatment Facility, this $62 million project includes a building of
                                   more than 11,000 square feet for temporarily storing waste and two larger
                                   buildings totaling more than 37,000 square feet for treating waste for off-
                                   site disposal. The new facility is intended not only to enhance the
                                   laboratory’s capability to treat waste, but also to better protect workers
                                   and the environment while doing so. Although construction of the project


                                   Page 1                                             GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                   was completed in June 2001, the storage building did not begin operating
                   until September 2002, and the treatment buildings remain unused to this
                   day. In response to your request, this report (1) identifies the cause of the
                   delay in initiating storage and treatment operations at the new facility, (2)
                   identifies the effects of the delay in initiating treatment operations, and (3)
                   discusses the steps taken to ensure that the latest estimated date for
                   initiating treatment operations at the facility can be met.


                   The delay in initiating storage and treatment operations at the new facility
Results in Brief   occurred because DOE managers did not resolve in a timely way two
                   technical issues concerning the plan to ensure the safe operation of the
                   new building for temporarily storing wastes. The first issue concerned
                   how to categorize the potential severity of hazards faced by workers, the
                   public, and the environment if wastes stored in the new storage building
                   were released. This categorization provides the basis for determining what
                   safety controls are needed to ensure adequate protection of workers, the
                   public, and the environment from such a release. The second issue
                   involved whether to include an analysis of the effect of a potential aircraft
                   crash into the building. Nearly a year after the safety document was
                   submitted for review and approval, DOE directed the Livermore
                   laboratory to base its document on a higher-level category that assumed
                   that if a release of wastes occurred, the consequences for workers, the
                   public, and the environment could extend beyond the building to other
                   laboratory areas. Laboratory officials had preferred a lower-level
                   designation that assumed that the consequences of an accident would not
                   extend beyond the building. Laboratory officials had contended that this
                   lower-level designation would cost less to implement and reduce the
                   amount of nuclear safety oversight the laboratory would receive. In
                   addition, officials from DOE and the laboratory agreed that the laboratory
                   would analyze the potential effect an aircraft crash would have on the
                   building. The laboratory’s position on conducting such an analysis had
                   been that it was unnecessary because a potential aircraft crash was not a
                   credible event. The lengthy time frame for approving the laboratory’s
                   storage building safety planning document delayed the start of treatment
                   operations.

                   The delay in initiating treatment operations at the new facility has had two
                   main effects. First, it postponed the use of the new facility’s safety
                   improvements. Because of the delay, the laboratory has had to continue
                   treatment operations for longer than planned in the older facility, which
                   lacks some of the new facility’s protections for worker safety and the
                   environment. For example, some waste is treated at the older facility in


                   Page 2                                             GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
             uncovered outdoor tanks, while at the new facility the treatment
             operations will be conducted indoors using a ventilation system that will
             prevent waste particles from being released into the environment. Second,
             the delay in initiating treatment operations has postponed off-site disposal
             of some of the waste. Within 6 months of the facility’s becoming
             operational, laboratory officials had planned to start treating some of the
             waste that could not be treated in the older facility and shipping this waste
             off-site for disposal. With a later start-up date, these shipments will be
             delayed.

             DOE and the laboratory have taken or are planning to take three steps to
             address the cause of the delay and begin treatment operations at the new
             facility by the current deadline of August 2003, but officials believe that
             meeting the deadline will be challenging. First, DOE and the laboratory
             implemented a formal process to resolve issues during the development of
             the treatment buildings’ safety document. Second, the two issues that led
             to the delay in approving the storage building safety document have been
             resolved in the treatment buildings’ safety document. Third, DOE
             management said it will improve oversight so that any future
             disagreements are resolved in a timely manner. Even with these steps,
             DOE and laboratory officials are unsure if the August 2003 date for
             initiating operations at the treatment buildings can be met. To achieve this
             deadline, the laboratory has compressed the time allowed for other
             interim steps. In this regard, the laboratory has allowed less time than it
             typically allows to prepare for an operational readiness review—2 weeks,
             rather than the normal 6 weeks. This process is important because it tests
             the facility’s procedures, equipment, and personnel to ensure that the
             laboratory will operate the facility in accordance with parameters set out
             in the safety document. DOE and laboratory officials describe the
             scheduled start date as challenging but achievable.

             In commenting on a draft of this report DOE generally agreed with GAO’s
             findings.


             DOE has several research laboratories, including the Livermore
Background   laboratory, devoted primarily to DOE’s nuclear weapons program.
             Organizations or universities under contract to DOE manage and operate
             these laboratories. For example, the University of California has operated
             the Livermore laboratory for DOE and its predecessor agencies since




             Page 3                                            GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
laboratory operations began in 1952.1 The Livermore laboratory has an
infrastructure of research, testing, engineering, and waste management
facilities located on the laboratory site in Livermore, California, a city of
about 75,000 people located about 50 miles east of San Francisco. An
additional area located about 15 miles east of the laboratory is used for
experimental testing. The laboratory site’s groundwater is contaminated
with hazardous substances from past operations,2 and in 1987, the
Environmental Protection Agency added the site to the National Priorities
List of the nation’s most serious hazardous waste sites.

Treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous and mixed wastes are
governed by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, as
amended (RCRA). Under RCRA, owners and operators of new hazardous
waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities, including federal
facilities, are required to obtain a permit before beginning construction of
the facility. The state of California is authorized to administer the RCRA
program for facilities in California and is responsible for issuing the
permit.

DOE is responsible for ensuring that the nuclear activities at its facilities
are carried out safely and in accordance with law and regulation. The
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized
agency within DOE, carries out oversight of nuclear research, nuclear
safety, and related activities. DOE’s Office of Environmental Management
provides oversight of environmental restoration and waste management
activities, such as the construction of the new waste treatment facility at
the Livermore site. NNSA and Office of Environmental Management staff
from NNSA’s Livermore Site Office are responsible for carrying out these
oversight responsibilities. NNSA staff also administer the contract
between DOE and the University of California, which sets out the
parameters and performance requirements for operating the laboratory.

Radioactive and hazardous wastes at the Livermore laboratory amounted
to about 2,700 cubic meters as of January 16, 2003. The wastes include


1
 DOE has continued to extend its contract with the University since that time under a
provision in federal statute that allows contracts with federally funded research and
development centers to be extended without competition in order to maintain essential
research and development capability. See 41 U.S.C. § 253 (c)(3)(B). The University of
California also operates another DOE weapons laboratory, the Los Alamos National
Laboratory in New Mexico.
2
    The site is a former U.S. Navy flight training base and aircraft rework facility.




Page 4                                                           GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
low-level radioactive waste,3 transuranic waste,4 hazardous waste, and
mixed waste. About one-fourth of the radioactive waste also contains
hazardous substances. The waste is packaged in containers and is stored
outdoors or under tents on asphalt pads, or inside enclosed or partially
enclosed buildings (see figs. 1 and 2). The waste is stored within fenced
areas of the laboratory site where access is controlled. The California
Environmental Protection Agency and DOE have approved storage of the
waste in this manner. Before the waste can be disposed of off-site, much
of it must be treated and repackaged so that it will meet the requirements
of disposal facilities. Because the waste inventory is expected to
eventually decline, the new facility’s storage building is designed to
provide less waste storage capacity than the older storage facilities
provide. Most of the older storage facilities will be closed in future years
after the backlog of waste has been disposed of off-site.

Figure 1: Current Outdoor Waste Storage




3
  The Livermore laboratory’s low-level waste has a wide range of characteristics; it often
contains small amounts of radioactivity in large volumes of material.
4
 Transuranic waste is radioactive waste contaminated with transuranic elements (i.e.,
elements heavier than uranium, such as plutonium) with half-lives greater than 20 years, in
concentrations above 100 nanocuries per gram of waste.




Page 5                                                      GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
Figure 2: Current Waste Storage under Tent




Construction of the Decontamination and Waste Treatment Facility
project was placed on hold for a time after its authorization. The Congress
had provided authorization and funding for the project for fiscal year 1986,
but complaints from the public about an incinerator included in the facility
design contributed to DOE’s decision to place the project on hold.
Ultimately, the laboratory redesigned the facility without the incinerator
and planned to complete construction of the facility by the end of 1999.

Construction of the Decontamination and Waste Treatment Facility was
completed in June 2001, approximately 1½ years behind schedule.
Construction was delayed because California regulators took longer than
expected to issue a RCRA permit for the facility. Although laboratory
officials had planned to receive the permit in 1997, an accident occurred at
one of the laboratory’s existing waste management facilities, which
exposed workers to higher-than-allowable levels of radioactivity.
According to a California regulator, that accident is likely to have led the
California Environmental Protection Agency to postpone issuing the
permit until an investigation of the accident was completed. Issuance of
the permit was also delayed by a large number of public comments, which



Page 6                                           GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
took longer than expected to address. To mitigate the impact of the delay
in receiving the permit, the laboratory built the facility in two stages. In the
first stage, the laboratory built portions of the facility that did not require
the permit, such as the lobby and offices, which would not handle
hazardous and mixed waste. The laboratory built the rest of the facility in
the second stage after receiving the permit in 1999. The delay in obtaining
the RCRA permit increased project costs by $2.1 million. The increase was
covered by available contingency funds, allowing the project to remain
within budget. Figure 3 shows the site plan of the facility; figure 4 shows a
portion of the interior.

Figure 3: Decontamination and Waste Treatment Facility (DWTF) Site Plan




Page 7                                              GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
Figure 4: New Facility’s Treatment Area for Liquid Waste




                                                                  DWTF

                                                                  S




                                         The delay in initiating storage and treatment operations at the new facility
Delay Occurred                           occurred because DOE managers did not resolve in a timely manner
because DOE                              lingering disagreements about two technical issues. First, DOE and the
                                         laboratory disagreed about how to categorize the potential severity of
Managers Did Not                         hazards faced by workers, the public, and the environment if wastes
Resolve                                  stored in the new storage building were released. Proper categorization is
                                         important because it provides the basis for determining what kinds of
Disagreements in a                       safety controls must be in place to protect workers, the public, and the
Timely Manner                            environment if such an event were to occur. Second, DOE and the
                                         laboratory also disagreed about whether to include an aircraft crash
                                         analysis in the safety document, with the laboratory maintaining that such
                                         an analysis was unnecessary, and DOE officials taking the opposite



                                         Page 8                                           GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                            viewpoint. DOE managers did not fully resolve these disagreements for
                            nearly a year. The lengthy time frame for approving the laboratory’s
                            storage building safety document delayed the start of treatment
                            operations.


DOE and Laboratory          Federal regulations require contractors operating a DOE nuclear facility to
Officials Disagreed about   establish controls upon which they will rely to adequately protect workers,
Hazard Categorization       the public, and the environment against the dangerous materials on-site.5
                            Before a nuclear facility can operate, contractors must prepare and DOE
                            must approve a safety document that identifies and assesses the hazards,
                            risks, and controls needed to safely operate the facility. Contractors must
                            determine the potential risk to workers, the public, and the environment of
                            hazards associated with the facility. They must categorize the level of the
                            facility’s hazards in accordance with DOE requirements. There are three
                            hazard categories: potential for significant off-site consequences (category
                            1), potential for significant on-site consequences (category 2), and
                            potential for only significant localized consequences in the facility
                            (category 3).

                            Using the same methodology that the laboratory had used to determine
                            categorization for existing storage facilities, the laboratory determined
                            that the new storage building should be given a category 3 classification.
                            The laboratory believed the methodology was adequate because it had
                            received DOE approval when it had been used before. Laboratory officials
                            were also concerned that a higher category 2 classification would require
                            them to conduct a rigorous quantitative accident analysis, which is more
                            costly and might result in more safety controls and external oversight of
                            storage building operations that could increase operating costs.

                            Although the methodology had been approved when used for the
                            laboratory’s existing facilities, some officials within DOE had questioned
                            its appropriateness, and these concerns surfaced again as the document
                            was being reviewed for the new storage building. Some DOE officials
                            believed that the new storage building warranted a category 2 hazard
                            classification, because they saw potential for significant on-site
                            consequences in the event of a release of the stored materials. In addition,
                            a May 2001 report by the laboratory’s safety document review group
                            indicated that the laboratory’s methodology for determining the hazard


                            5
                                10 CFR part 830, promulgated in 2001, establishes these safety requirements.




                            Page 9                                                       GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                           category for some of its existing facilities was inappropriate. The report
                           concluded that the hazard category for the facilities needed further
                           evaluation.6


DOE and the Laboratory     DOE and the laboratory also disagreed over whether to include an aircraft
Also Disagreed about the   crash analysis as part of the storage building safety document. DOE had
Need for Aircraft Crash    issued a standard in October 1996 that provides facilities an approach for
                           performing an analysis of the health and safety risks to workers on-site
Analysis                   and the public in the event of a release of material resulting from an
                           aircraft crash. This standard applies to facilities that contain significant
                           quantities of radioactive and hazardous material.7 The standard also
                           applies if special circumstances exist, such as a facility’s being located
                           near significant numbers of people. The laboratory is located next to
                           residential areas in the city of Livermore.

                           Both DOE and laboratory officials believed they had a logical basis for
                           their positions on the aircraft crash analysis. DOE officials believed that an
                           aircraft crash analysis should be included in the storage building safety
                           document because of the laboratory’s proximity to residential areas and
                           the Livermore airport; an increase in airplane traffic in the area; and the
                           potential for a release of radioactive material in the event of an aircraft
                           crash into the storage building, which would pose potential health and
                           safety risks to workers and the public. Laboratory officials, on the other
                           hand, said their previous calculations for an existing storage facility
                           determined that such a crash was not a credible event, and therefore an
                           analysis was not required. They contended that the same finding was valid
                           for the new storage building, as well.


Review of the Safety       In June 2001 the laboratory submitted the storage building safety
Document Lasted a Year     document to DOE for review and approval. Review of the safety document
                           was scheduled to last approximately 4 months. However, the safety
                           document was not approved until June 2002, a year later. During the 1-year
                           period, the laboratory submitted the safety document to DOE three times,



                           6
                             Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Baseline Review of LLNL Nuclear Facilities
                           Authorization Basis Documents, Final Summary Report on Issues and
                           Recommendations on LLNL-Authorization Basis Documents, May 2001.
                           7
                            Accident Analysis For Aircraft Crash Into Hazardous Facilities, DOE-STD-3014-96,
                           October 1996.




                           Page 10                                                 GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
and each time DOE rejected it. Although the project was falling behind
schedule, DOE field managers responsible for the timely approval of the
safety document did not take steps early on to resolve the situation. This
occurred in part because some DOE officials supported the laboratory’s
efforts to justify a lower category 3 hazard classification. They concurred
with the laboratory that a category 2 hazard classification would require a
more detailed quantitative accident analysis, which would be more costly
and would result in more safety controls that could increase operating
costs and oversight of its storage building operations. In addition, the
laboratory believed that a category 3 hazard classification would provide
an appropriate level of safety.8

In May 2002, the DOE manager responsible for overseeing laboratory
operations took steps to resolve the disagreement over hazard
classification. In a May 10, 2002, letter, the DOE manager directed
laboratory officials to use a category 2 classification for the storage
building. The same letter also stated that DOE and the laboratory agreed
to expedite the review and approval process to accelerate the initiation of
operations at the storage building. DOE and the laboratory implemented
an intensive review process that consisted of a series of meetings in which
the DOE review team and laboratory officials jointly conducted a line-by-
line review and edit of the storage building safety document. In addition,
DOE had determined that the storage building safety document did not
have to include an aircraft crash analysis provided that the laboratory
include the analysis in the June 2003 update of the document. In the
interim, DOE required the laboratory to include compensatory measures
in the document, such as procedures for public notification and fire
department response time in the event of an airplane crash. DOE approved
the safety document on June 28, 2002.

Because of the longer-than-expected time frame for approving the storage
building safety document, the cost for completing the facility’s safety
documents exceeded laboratory estimates by $400,000, according to a
project budget document. However, the laboratory’s project manager
stated that the additional cost was covered by the project’s contingency
fund reserved for unforeseen circumstances, allowing the project to
remain within budget. The delay in approving the storage building safety



8
 Concerns over safety issues surfaced in 1996 and 1997 when the laboratory prepared the
preliminary safety documents for the new facility. DOE required the laboratory to resolve
these issues prior to DOE authorizing facility operations.




Page 11                                                   GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                           document postponed the review of the safety document for the other
                           portion of the facility—the treatment buildings. This delay, in turn,
                           prevented the start of operations at the treatment buildings.


                           The delay in initiating treatment operations has had two related
Delay in Initiating        consequences. First, because the treatment buildings are not yet
Treatment Operations       operational, the laboratory has had to continue conducting its waste
                           treatment activities at the older facility, which lacks some of the new
Postponed Use of           facility’s environmental and worker protections. In addition, the older
Safety Improvements        facility has fewer capabilities to treat waste and prepare it for off-site
                           disposal, requiring the laboratory to postpone disposing of some waste off-
and Off-Site Disposal      site.
of Some Waste
Safety Improvements Not    Until DOE approves the treatment buildings’ safety document and DOE
Realized with Continued    and the laboratory conduct an operational readiness review, the treatment
Use of Older Treatment     buildings cannot begin operations. These tasks were postponed until DOE
                           resolved disagreements about the storage buildings’ safety document. As a
Facility                   result, the laboratory has had to continue its waste treatment operations at
                           the older facility and has not been able to utilize the safety features of the
                           new facility. Examples of the differences in safety features between the
                           two facilities follow.

                           •   The new facility has a ventilation system that filters waste particles
                               from the air in the buildings to prevent the release of contaminants into
                               the environment; the older facility does not.
                           •   The buildings of the new facility were designed so that all waste
                               treatment operations are conducted indoors. At the older facility, some
                               operations are conducted in treatment tanks that do not have covers
                               and are located outdoors, enabling vapors and waste particles to
                               escape into the environment.
                           •   Compared with the older facility, the new facility has more areas in
                               which ventilation systems take in air at a high rate near treatment
                               equipment to protect workers from exposure to fumes and waste
                               particles.


Delay Postponed Off-Site   Because the treatment buildings are not yet operational, the laboratory has
Disposal of Some Waste     not been able to use the new treatment facility’s enhanced capabilities to
                           prepare waste for off-site disposal. For example, the new facility has a
                           debris washer that washes mixed waste to remove the hazardous portion
                           of the waste from the radioactive portion, allowing each portion to be sent



                           Page 12                                           GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                         to disposal sites at a lower total cost than disposing of the mixed waste as
                         a whole. In addition, the new facility is equipped with a glovebox that
                         enables special handling of the waste in an enclosed, controlled, and
                         highly ventilated area to treat “reactive” waste9 that is not acceptable at
                         disposal sites. Treatment of such waste enables it to meet the acceptance
                         criteria of disposal sites. The older facility does not have these features.

                         Since the laboratory cannot yet utilize the new buildings’ treatment
                         capabilities, some wastes have remained at the laboratory rather than
                         being disposed of off-site. For example, a laboratory official responsible
                         for waste management activities stated that the laboratory had planned to
                         begin treating reactive waste within 6 months of the start of operations at
                         the treatment buildings to prepare it for disposal. Because of the delay in
                         initiating operations, the laboratory has postponed treating and disposing
                         of this waste.


                         DOE and the laboratory have taken or are planning to take the following
DOE Has Improved         three steps to address the cause of the delay in approving the storage
Review and Oversight     building safety document in an effort to meet the August 2003 deadline for
                         starting treatment operations:
of Laboratory Safety
Documents, but Time      •   DOE and the laboratory agreed to hold a series of joint working
                             meetings to identify and resolve issues during the development of the
Remaining Will Make          treatment buildings’ safety document. This action was taken to identify
It Challenging to Meet       and address issues or concerns during the development stages of the
                             document rather than during the document review process. By
the August 2003              enhancing communication, DOE and the laboratory hoped to minimize
Deadline for Starting        the possibility that disagreements would delay the approval of the
                             document and further postpone the initiation of treatment operations.
Treatment Operations     •   In the treatment buildings’ safety document, DOE and the laboratory
                             resolved the two main issues that led to the delay in approving the
                             storage building safety document. The laboratory has agreed to limit
                             the amount of radioactive material it processes during treatment
                             operations to meet the requirements for a lower category 3 hazard
                             classification for the treatment buildings. The laboratory also agreed to
                             include an aircraft crash analysis in the treatment buildings’ safety
                             document.


                         9
                          An example of reactive waste is material containing sodium metal, which reacts strongly
                         with water, including water in the air. Such a reaction could create a large amount of heat,
                         which could cause the material to ignite.




                         Page 13                                                     GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                   •   DOE’s management resolved to strengthen oversight by not allowing
                       any future disagreements to languish unresolved for long periods of
                       time. For example, DOE’s Livermore Laboratory Site Manager said that
                       it took too long to resolve the disagreement over the storage building
                       safety document and that in a similar situation she would take action to
                       ensure that any disagreement was resolved within 60 to 90 days.

                   Even with these steps, DOE and laboratory officials are unsure if the
                   August 2003 date for initiating operations at the treatment buildings can be
                   met. The laboratory now has less time available to prepare for the
                   remaining tasks than it typically allows. Once the laboratory has submitted
                   and received approval of safety documents from DOE, it must prepare
                   documents and train staff for the facility’s operational readiness review.
                   An operational readiness review examines the facility’s procedures,
                   equipment, and personnel to ensure that the contractor will operate the
                   facility safely in accordance with parameters set out in the safety
                   document. Laboratory officials said that, typically, the laboratory allows 6
                   weeks of preparation for the operational readiness review. However, for
                   the treatment buildings, the laboratory has compressed the amount of time
                   to prepare for the operational readiness review to 2 weeks in order to
                   meet the August 2003 deadline. DOE and laboratory officials said that the
                   August 2003 deadline is challenging but achievable.


                   We provided a draft of this report to DOE and Lawrence Livermore
Agency Comments    National Laboratory for their review and comment. The laboratory
and Our Response   provided its comments through DOE. In written comments, DOE generally
                   agreed with the accuracy of our report. However, we made changes in
                   response to two points raised by DOE’s Assistant Secretary for
                   Environmental Management. First, concerning the delays in resolving
                   safety issues, DOE said our draft report omits the fact that the laboratory
                   had developed a safety document for the treatment and storage facility as
                   early as 1996 and some of the safety issues had been unresolved since that
                   time. We recognize that the laboratory had developed preliminary safety
                   documents in 1996 and 1997 and some of the safety issues identified at
                   that time remained unresolved until after they resurfaced in 2001.
                   However, this information does not help explain why those issues
                   remained unresolved, and it does not address the cause of the delay in
                   initiating operations at the new facility. We did clarify in the report that
                   some of the safety issues surfaced in 1996 and 1997.




                   Page 14                                          GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
DOE’s second point concerned a statement in the draft report that
shipment of some waste to off-site disposal facilities had been delayed.
The Assistant Secretary said that the treatment and off-site disposal of
legacy waste—the backlog of stored waste from nuclear weapons research
activities—have not been directly postponed by the delay in obtaining
approval of the facility safety documents. However, we found that the
delay in approving the storage building safety document contributed to the
delay in approving the treatment buildings’ safety document. Furthermore,
the treatment building cannot operate until after approval of the safety
documents and completion of an operational readiness review. Certain
waste at the laboratory, such as reactive waste, cannot be treated in the
laboratory’s older facilities and has been stored at the site. The
laboratory’s plan was to begin treating this waste for off-site disposal
within 6 months of initiating operations at the new treatment facility.
Therefore, the delay in initiating operations at the treatment facility has
postponed the off-site disposal of some waste.

DOE also provided technical comments, which we have incorporated as
appropriate. DOE’s written comments on our draft report are included in
appendix II.


We conducted our review from September 2002 through April 2003 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Appendix I provides details on our scope and methodology.

As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce the contents of
this report earlier, we plan no further distribution until 1 day after the
report date. At that time, we will send copies of this report to the Secretary
of Energy and the Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
We will also make copies available to others upon request. In addition, the
report will be available at no charge on the GAO Web site at
http://www.gao.gov.




Page 15                                           GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact me
at (202) 512-3841. Key contributors to this report are listed in appendix III.

Sincerely yours,




Robin M. Nazzaro
Director, Natural Resources
 and Environment




Page 16                                           GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Methodology



Methodology

              To identify the cause of the delay in initiating storage and treatment
              operations at the new facility, we reviewed DOE orders and standards and
              federal regulations pertaining to safety documents. We also reviewed
              safety documents, DOE comments on safety documents, and internal DOE
              correspondence discussing disagreements over safety documents. In
              addition, we reviewed a DOE memorandum addressing delegations of
              authority and also analyzed project schedules to determine the extent of
              delays for the Decontamination and Waste Treatment Facility project. We
              also analyzed project cost documents to determine any increases in costs
              from the delay. Finally, we interviewed DOE and Livermore laboratory
              officials about the preparation and review of safety documents.

              To identify the effects of the delay in initiating treatment operations, we
              analyzed documents describing waste treatment operations obtained from
              the laboratory, and we interviewed Livermore laboratory officials.

              To identify the steps taken to ensure that the latest estimated date for
              initiating treatment operations at the facility can be met, we interviewed
              DOE and laboratory officials and analyzed a DOE and laboratory written
              agreement addressing the development of safety documents. We also
              reviewed laboratory presentations on safety issues made to DOE. Finally,
              we analyzed the project schedule pertaining to the operational readiness
              review.

              We also toured laboratory and waste storage and treatment facilities and
              obtained data on the types, amounts, and locations of waste at the
              laboratory. We conducted our review from September 2002 through April
              2003 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
              standards.




              Page 17                                         GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                   Appendix II: Comments from the Department
Appendix II: Comments from the Department
                   of Energy



of Energy




         Page 18                                               GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
          Appendix II: Comments from the Department
          of Energy




Page 19                                               GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
                  Appendix III: GAO Contacts and Staff
Appendix III: GAO Contacts and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Robin M. Nazzaro (202) 512-3841
GAO Contacts
                  William R. Swick (206) 287-4800


                  In addition to those named above, Leo G. Acosta, Gary R. Boss, Allen T.
Acknowledgments   Chan, Nancy L. Crothers, Gary L. Jones, James L. Ohl, Stanley G.
                  Stenersen, and Yunsian Tai made key contributions to this report.




(360265)
                  Page 20                                         GAO-03-558 Radioactive Waste
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