oversight

Nuclear Waste Cleanup: Preliminary Observations on DOE's Cleanup of the Paducah Uranium Enrichment Plant

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-12-06.

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

                               United States General Accounting Office

GAO                            Testimony
                               Before the Committee on Energy and
                               Natural Resources, U.S. Senate


For Release on Delivery
Expected at 9:00 a.m. CST
Saturday, December 6, 2003 	   NUCLEAR WASTE
                               CLEANUP
                               Preliminary Observations
                               on DOE’s Cleanup of the
                               Paducah Uranium
                               Enrichment Plant
                               Statement of Robin M. Nazzaro, Director
                               Natural Resources and Environment




GAO-04-278T 

                                                December 6, 2003


                                                NUCLEAR WASTE CLEANUP

                                                Preliminary Observations on DOE’s
Highlights of GAO-04-278T, testimony            Cleanup of the Paducah Uranium
before the Committee on Energy and
Natural Resources, U.S. Senate                  Enrichment Plant



In 1988, radioactive contamination              Since 1988, DOE has spent $823 million, adjusted to fiscal year 2002 constant
was found in the drinking water                 dollars, on the Paducah cleanup program. Of this total, DOE spent $372
wells of residences located near                million (45 percent) for a host of operations activities, including general
the federal government’s uranium                maintenance and security; $298 million (36 percent) for actions to clean up
enrichment plant in Paducah,                    contamination and waste; and almost $153 million (19 percent) for studies to
Kentucky, which is still in
operation. In response, the
                                                assess the extent of contamination and determine what cleanup actions
Department of Energy (DOE)                      were needed. DOE currently projects that the cleanup will take until 2019
began a cleanup program to                      and cost $2 billion to complete—nine years and $700 million more than its
identify and remove contamination               earlier projection. The $2 billion, however, does not include the cost of
in the groundwater, surface water,              other DOE activities required to close the site after the uranium enrichment
and soil located within and outside             plant ceases operations, including final decontamination and
the plant. In 2000, GAO reported                decommissioning of the plant and long-term environmental monitoring.
that DOE faced significant                      DOE estimates these activities will bring the total cost to over $13 billion
challenges in cleaning up the site              through 2070.
and that it was doubtful that the
cleanup would be completed as                   DOE has made some progress in cleaning up contamination and waste at
scheduled by 2010, and within the
$1.3 billion cost projection.
                                                Paducah, but the majority of the work remains to be done. For example,
                                                while DOE has removed over 4,500 tons of scrap metal, over 50,000 tons of
GAO was asked to testify on (1)                 contaminated scrap metal remain. Similarly, while DOE’s pilot test of a new
how much DOE has spent on the                   technology for removing the hazardous chemical trichloroethylene (TCE)
Paducah cleanup and for what                    from groundwater at the site had promising results, the technology will not
purposes, and the estimated total               be fully implemented for over a year.
future costs for the site; (2) the
status of DOE’s cleanup effort; and             DOE’s key challenge in completing the Paducah cleanup is achieving
(3) the challenges DOE faces in                 stakeholder agreement on the cleanup approach. For example, differences
completing the cleanup.                         between DOE and the regulatory entities—the Commonwealth of Kentucky
                                                and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—over the cleanup scope and
This testimony is based on ongoing
work, and GAO expects to issue a
                                                time frames resulted in an almost 2-year dispute, from June 2001 to April
final report on this work in April              2003, that disrupted progress. All three parties are working to develop an
2004.                                           accelerated cleanup plan, but continued cooperation will be required in
                                                order to advance the cleanup.


                                                Drum Mountain, 2,500 tons of crushed drums that once held depleted uranium, and the site
                                                after its removal in 2000.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-278T.


To view the full product, click on the link 

above. 

For more information, contact Robin Nazzaro 

at (202) 512-3841 or NazzaroR@gao.gov. 

Senator Bunning:

We are pleased to be here today to discuss the Department of Energy’s
(DOE) efforts to clean up contamination and waste at its Paducah,
Kentucky, uranium enrichment plant. The plant, which continues to
operate under a lease to a private company, the United States Enrichment
Corporation (USEC), enriches uranium for commercial nuclear power
plants. DOE began a cleanup program at the site in 1988, after
contaminated groundwater was found in nearby residents’ drinking water
wells, and contaminated surface water and soils were identified within and
outside the site. In August 1999, in response to allegations that past plant
activities had endangered employees’ health, DOE’s Office of Oversight
conducted an independent investigation that identified improper disposal
of hazardous and radioactive materials on- and off-site and the release of
contaminated water into streams and drainage ditches.1 In 2000, prompted
by continuing congressional concerns, we reported that DOE faced
significant challenges, such as obtaining stakeholder concurrence with its
approach in cleaning up the Paducah site and that it was doubtful that the
cleanup would be completed as scheduled by 2010 and within the $1.3
billion cost projection.2 Our statement today describes the preliminary
results of our ongoing work, directed by the conference report for DOE’s
2003 appropriations, on DOE’s cleanup efforts at the Paducah plant.3
Specifically, we will discuss (1) how much DOE has spent on the cleanup
program and for what purposes, and the estimated total future costs for
the site; (2) the status of DOE efforts to clean up the contamination at the
site; and (3) the challenges DOE faces in completing the cleanup.

In summary:

•	   Since 1988, DOE has spent $823 million, adjusted to fiscal year 2002
     constant dollars, on the Paducah site. Of this total, DOE spent about
     $372 million (45 percent) to pay for operations at the site, including
     construction, security, general maintenance, and litigation; $298 million



1
 Department of Energy, Office of Oversight, Office of Environment, Safety, and Health,
Phase I: Independent Investigation of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (Washington,
D.C., Oct. 1999).
2
U.S. General Accounting Office, Nuclear Waste Cleanup: DOE’s Paducah Plan Faces
Uncertainties and Excludes Costly Cleanup Activities, GAO/RCED-00-96 (Washington,
D.C.: Apr. 28, 2000).
3
H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 108-10, at 895 (2003).



Page 1                                                                  GAO-04-278T
     (36 percent) on actions to clean up contamination and remove waste;
     and almost $153 million (19 percent) for studies to assess the extent of
     the contamination and determine what cleanup actions were
     necessary. Although DOE estimated in January 2000 that the cleanup
     would be complete by 2010 and cost $1.3 billion, DOE now estimates
     that completing the cleanup will take at least until 2019 and cost almost
     $2 billion. The $2 billion, however, does not include the cost of other
     DOE activities required to close the site, including final
     decontamination and decommissioning of the buildings, equipment,
     and materials used in the uranium enrichment process after operations
     cease at the plant, as well as long-term environmental monitoring at the
     site. Completing these activities will bring the total cost of closing the
     uranium enrichment plant to over $13 billion through 2070.

•	   DOE has made some progress in cleaning up contamination and waste
     at Paducah since 1988, but much of the work remains to be done. For
     example, DOE has removed over 4,500 tons of scrap metal, but over
     50,000 tons remain. Similarly, although DOE has tested a new
     technology for removing the hazardous chemical trichloroethylene
     (TCE) from groundwater at the site with promising results, the test
     removed only about 1 percent of the estimated amount of TCE, and the
     technology will not be fully implemented for over a year. DOE also
     plans to conduct a number of studies to determine if other cleanup
     actions, in addition to those already planned, are necessary. For
     example, DOE will test the groundwater near several areas where
     waste is buried to determine if contamination is leaking and, if so, what
     corrective action will be needed.

•	   DOE’s key challenge in completing the cleanup at Paducah is achieving
     stakeholder agreement on the cleanup approach, including scope and
     time frames. For almost 2 years, from June 2001 to April 2003, DOE and
     the regulators—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and
     the Commonwealth of Kentucky—were unable to agree on cleanup
     scope and time frames, disrupting cleanup progress. DOE, EPA, and
     Kentucky are currently negotiating approval of an accelerated cleanup
     plan; however, the success of the plan will depend on the parties’
     ability to agree on the scope and time frames for individual projects as
     the cleanup moves forward. In addition, DOE’s proposed plan is only
     the latest of several attempts to resolve problems at the site since 1999.
     Given the parties’ past difficulties in resolving disputes over cleanup
     scope and time frames, and the number of decisions that remain to be
     made, it is unclear whether DOE will be successful in accelerating the
     cleanup.



Page 2                                                            GAO-04-278T
             The Paducah uranium enrichment plant is located on about 3,500 acres in
Background   western Kentucky, about 3 miles south of the Ohio River and about 10
             miles west of the city of Paducah. The plant—formerly operated by DOE
             and now operated by USEC—enriches uranium for commercial nuclear
             power reactors. Plant operations have contaminated the site over time
             with radioactive and hazardous chemical wastes, including technetium-99
             (a radioactive fission product); polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs);
             uranium; and volatile organic compounds such as TCE, which was used as
             a degreaser.

             Responsibility for management of the Paducah site is divided between two
             DOE offices. The Office of Environmental Management has overall
             responsibility for the site cleanup being performed by its contractor,
             Bechtel Jacobs. The Office of Nuclear Energy acts as the site’s landlord,
             with responsibilities for maintaining roads, grounds, and facilities not
             leased to USEC.

             EPA and Kentucky cooperate in regulating the cleanup under the federal
             facility agreement, which integrates the requirements of two federal
             environmental statutes governing the cleanup of the Paducah site—the
             Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
             of 1980, as amended, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of
             1976, as amended. Respectively, these statutes provide broad federal
             authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of
             hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment
             and to regulate the safe management and disposal of hazardous or other
             solid wastes.

             In addition to the federal facility agreement, DOE uses two other
             documents to manage the cleanup. The site management plan, which is a
             cleanup strategy document developed annually by DOE and subject to
             approval by EPA and Kentucky, includes timetables, deadlines, and
             projected activities for the cleanup. DOE uses the lifecycle baseline to
             manage the cleanup; it contains detailed information on cleanup projects,
             cost estimates, and time frames for completion and is updated frequently
             by DOE’s contractor to reflect the evolving nature of the cleanup process.

             DOE’s cleanup plan for the Paducah site divides the cleanup into seven
             major categories:

             •	   Groundwater—About 10 billion gallons of groundwater are
                  contaminated with radioactive and hazardous materials.



             Page 3                                                         GAO-04-278T
•	   Surface water—Contaminated surface water has been discovered in
     creeks and ditches leaving the site. One of the main sources of this
     contamination is rain runoff from the thousands of tons of
     contaminated scrap metal stored at the site.

•	   Surface soils—Both on- and off-site soils and sediments have been
     contaminated by water runoff, spills, and buried waste.

•	   Legacy waste—Low-level radioactive or hazardous waste generated
     before 2001 remains stored in various locations at the site.

•	   DOE material storage areas—160 indoor and outdoor storage areas
     contain a variety of radioactive, hazardous, and other materials. These
     areas have been added to the cleanup scope since our 2000 report.

•	   Burial grounds—12 burial grounds contain a variety of waste, including
     barrels of materials with low levels of radioactivity and hazardous
     chemicals.

•	   Decontamination and decommissioning of 17 unused buildings and
     structures—These facilities were contaminated during earlier
     operations; 15 have been added to the cleanup scope since our 2000
     report.




Page 4                                                           GAO-04-278T
                         From 1988 through 2003, DOE spent $823 million, adjusted to fiscal year
DOE Has Spent $823       2002 constant dollars, at the Paducah site. As figure 1 shows, $372 million
Million on the           (45 percent) was spent on operations at the site such as providing security,
                         performing general maintenance, providing municipal water for nearby
Paducah Cleanup          residents, maintaining almost 38,000 cylinders of depleted uranium
Program, and Billions    hexafluoride,4 constructing storage and other facilities, and carrying out
                         activities related to litigation; $298 million (36 percent) was spent on
More Will be Required    cleanup actions, including waste removal and treatment; and $153 million
for Final Site Closure   (19 percent) was spent on studies to assess the contamination and
                         determine what cleanup actions were necessary. These percentages are
                         similar to those DOE’s Office of Environmental Management found for all
                         of its cleanup programs: only about one-third of the environmental
                         management program budget goes toward actual cleanup and risk
                         reduction work, with the remainder going to maintenance, fixed costs, and
                         miscellaneous activities, contributing to a lack of risk reduction and
                         raising costs for DOE’s cleanups.5




                         4
                          Uranium hexafluoride, a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process, must be handled
                         in leakproof containers because when it comes into contact with water, such as water
                         vapor in the air, it forms corrosive hydrogen fluoride and a uranium-fluoride compound
                         called uranyl fluoride.
                         5
                          Department of Energy, A Review of the Environmental Management Program
                         (Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 2002).



                         Page 5                                                                    GAO-04-278T
Figure 1: Expenditures at Paducah by Category, Fiscal Years 1988-2003




Note: Total cleanup expenditures for fiscal years 1988-2003, adjusted to fiscal year 2002 dollars,
were $823 million. The individual dollar figures noted above may not total $823 million because of
rounding.


DOE’s current estimate for completing the cleanup is almost $2 billion—a
$700 million increase over its 2000 estimate—and the completion date has
moved from 2010 to 2019. The cost increase is attributable to an expanded
project scope as well as millions of dollars for site operations for each of
the 9 additional years of cleanup. However, the cleanup estimate does not
represent DOE’s total responsibilities at the site: In addition to the cleanup
program, DOE will build and operate a facility to convert the depleted
uranium hexafluoride stored at the site to a more stable form and carry


Page 6                                                                                GAO-04-278T
                      out final decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) of the uranium
                      enrichment process buildings, equipment, and materials once USEC
                      ceases plant operations. Furthermore, after the cleanup, D&D, and
                      uranium hexafluoride conversion, DOE will continue to incur long-term
                      stewardship costs at the site for such activities as monitoring groundwater
                      and surface water for residual contamination. Completing these activities
                      will bring the total cost of closing the uranium enrichment plant to over
                      $13 billion through 2070.


                      Since 1988, DOE has made some progress in cleaning up the
While DOE Has Made    contamination and waste at Paducah, but much of the cleanup work
Some Progress, the    remains to be done. Some of DOE’s accomplishments since our 2000
                      report as well as tasks remaining follow:
Bulk of the Cleanup
Remains               •	   Groundwater—DOE has treated about 710 million gallons of
                           groundwater to remove TCE and technetium-99 and prevent off-site
                           contamination. DOE’s pilot test of technology for removing TCE
                           sources—large concentrations of accumulated TCE—had promising
                           results. However, the test removed only about 1 percent of the
                           estimated 180,000 gallons of TCE that had leaked into the ground, and
                           the system will not be fully implemented until at least 2005, according
                           to DOE contractor officials.6 The estimated completion date for
                           removing TCE from the two major sources at the site is 2010.

                      •	   Surface water—To prevent contaminated runoff, DOE has removed
                           about 4,500 tons of scrap metal from the site—primarily crushed drums
                           that previously had contained uranium and aluminum ingots. An
                           estimated 50,500 tons of scrap metal remains to be removed from the
                           site. At the north-south diversion ditch, a key wastewater conduit from
                           the plant, surface water discharges and runoff have been rerouted and
                           piped to bypass contaminated areas, and DOE has begun excavation
                           work to remove contaminated soil from the first of five sections of the
                           ditch. DOE plans to complete excavation of sections one and two by
                           2005. The estimated completion date for all surface water cleanup
                           activities is 2017.




                      6
                       According to DOE, this estimate is based on the assumptions that TCE was used at the site
                      from 1953 to 1993 and that a fixed amount was released to the ground each day. A high
                      degree of uncertainty surrounds this estimate, and the actual amount of TCE released
                      cannot be verified.



                      Page 7                                                                      GAO-04-278T
•	  Surface soils—DOE has assessed all surface soils at the site to identify
    radioactive contamination and protect plant workers. In addition, DOE
    has removed 2,500 cubic yards of contaminated soils—enough to cover
    a football field 17 inches deep. However, because soil contamination
    represents a lower risk for exposure and migration than, for example,
    groundwater, and because other work, such as removal of scrap metal,
    must be performed before some soils can be reached, this category is a
    lower priority. DOE estimates that a total of 90,000 cubic yards of soils
    will be removed and disposed by 2015.
• 	 Legacy waste—DOE has performed initial characterization of all of this
    waste—the equivalent of 52,000 55-gallon barrels—for on-site storage,
    and disposed of over 7,000 barrels off-site. Another 6,000 have been
    repackaged and are ready for disposal. The remaining legacy waste—
    over 38,000 barrels—will be characterized and disposed of by 2010.

•	   DOE material storage areas (DMSA)—DOE has ranked the 160 DMSAs
     at the Paducah site on the basis of their potential to contain hazardous
     materials or contaminate the environment: 33 are high priority, 11 are
     medium priority, and 116 are low priority. DOE has characterized and
     removed materials from 9 high- and 15 low-priority DMSAs and has
     completed characterization of an additional 17 high-priority DMSAs.
     DOE still needs to remove materials from these 17 and characterize
     and remove materials in the remaining 119 DMSAs. According to DOE
     officials, only 0.01 percent of the materials characterized to date have
     been determined to be hazardous waste. DOE plans to complete
     characterization by the end of fiscal year 2009 and dispose of all
     materials from the DMSAs by 2013.

•	   Burial grounds—To date, DOE’s activities at the 12 burial grounds have
     consisted of studies and environmental monitoring and maintenance.
     Currently, DOE plans to cap—cover with a layer of soil—the burial
     grounds and monitor groundwater to evaluate the effectiveness of the
     caps. If the burial grounds are found to be leaking TCE or other
     hazardous substances, some burial grounds may need to be excavated.
     Groundwater monitoring will be ongoing through 2019.

•	   Decontamination and decommissioning of 17 buildings and structures
     that are no longer used for the uranium enrichment process—DOE has
     completed its assessment of the contamination and has begun
     removing the infrastructure of one of the buildings. The remaining 16
     are scheduled to be completed by 2017.




Page 8                                                            GAO-04-278T
                       After operations cease at the plant, DOE will decontaminate and
                       decommission the uranium enrichment process buildings and equipment. 7
                       During D&D, DOE will also address, as necessary, those areas where
                       additional studies are being done.


                       DOE’s most difficult challenge has been, and could likely remain,
Reaching Agreement     obtaining stakeholder agreement on the cleanup approach, including
on Cleanup Scope and   scope and time frames. According to DOE officials, reaching agreement
                       has been more difficult at Paducah than at other DOE cleanup sites. For
Time Frames Remains    example, from June 2001 to April 2003, DOE, EPA, and Kentucky were in
the Key Challenge to   dispute over the 2001 site management plan because they could not agree
                       on the cleanup scope and time frames. Specifically, in response to
Cleanup Progress       congressional concern about the lack of cleanup progress prior to
                       hearings held in 1999, DOE, Kentucky, and EPA drafted a site management
                       plan to expedite cleanup actions at the site. According to Kentucky
                       officials, technical staff of all three parties agreed to this plan. However,
                       DOE headquarters officials later abandoned the plan, citing budgetary
                       constraints and their belief that the risk did not warrant all the planned
                       cleanup actions.

                       DOE and Kentucky have also had difficulty agreeing on the details of
                       specific cleanup projects. For example, it took the two parties 5 months to
                       reach agreement on the amount and type of data required to confirm that
                       soil from the north-south diversion ditch could be appropriately disposed
                       of in an onsite landfill. DOE and Kentucky also had difficulties resolving
                       DOE’s regulatory violations at the site, which, according to DOE officials,
                       slowed cleanup progress.

                       DOE and the regulators have recently resolved a number of differences
                       that were delaying cleanup actions. For example, in October 2003 DOE
                       and Kentucky agreed to a settlement that resolved outstanding regulatory
                       violations related to, among other things, DOE’s management of hazardous
                       waste at the site. In addition, all three parties are currently negotiating
                       approval of the 2004 site management plan, which will provide a
                       framework for accelerating the cleanup. While we are encouraged by these
                       recent events, the success of the plan, once approved, will depend on the
                       parties’ ability to reach agreement on the scope and time frames for
                       individual projects as the cleanup moves forward. Furthermore,


                       7
                       No schedule currently exists for full-scale D&D of the operating plant.



                       Page 9                                                                    GAO-04-278T
agreement on an accelerated cleanup plan may not preclude future
disputes between DOE and the regulators. For example, DOE and the state
of Washington have had an accelerated plan in place since March 2002, but
they only recently completed a lengthy negotiation over time frames for
disposal of mixed radioactive and toxic wastes at the Hanford cleanup
site.

In addition, as table 1 shows, the accelerated cleanup plan will be only the
latest of several cleanup plans for the site since 1999, all of which have
differed significantly in cost, scope, and time frame for cleanup and were
intended as solutions to problems at the site. For example, DOE’s
Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management testified in July 2000
that a solid and effective working relationship had been established with
Kentucky and EPA and a process was in place that would lead to mutually
supported cleanup decisions.8 Ten months later, DOE was in dispute with
the regulators over the site management plan.

Table 1: DOE Estimates of Paducah Plant Cleanup Costs and Completion Schedule

    Dollars in billions
                                                 Estimated      Estimated completion
    Date and source of DOE estimate           cleanup cost      date
    October 1999 appropriations hearing                $0.7     2012
    January 2000 lifecycle baseline                     1.3     2010
    Amended fiscal year 2003 site                       2.5     2030
    management plan
    Fiscal year 2004 site management plan               2.0     2019
Sources: GAO and DOE.


Given DOE’s past difficulties in reaching agreement with its regulators and
the details that remain to be agreed upon, it is unclear whether DOE will
be successful in accelerating the cleanup.

These are our observations to date. We will continue to further assess
DOE’s progress and challenges in cleaning up the Paducah site and plan to
issue our final report in April 2004.




8
 July 12, 2000, testimony of Dr. Carolyn Huntoon before the House Budget Committee Task
Force on Natural Resources and the Environment.



Page 10                                                                  GAO-04-278T
                  Thank you, Senator Bunning. This concludes my prepared statement. I will
                  be pleased to respond to any questions that you may have.


                  For further information on this testimony, please contact me at (202) 512­
Contact and       3841. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony included
Acknowledgments   Nancy Crothers, Chris Ferencik, Kerry Dugan Hawranek, Kurt Kershow,
                  and Sherry McDonald.




(360405)
                  Page 11                                                        GAO-04-278T
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