April 1990 NUCLEAR HEALTH AND SAFETY Status of GAO’s Environmental, Safety, and Health Recommendations to DOE -. Ah I IllIll1 141399 United States GAO General Accounting Office Washington, DG 20548 Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division B-231293 April 20,199O The Honorable Howard M. Metzenbaum United States Senate The Honorable GeorgeMiller House of Representatives On March 16,1989, you requested that we evaluate the Department of Energy’s (DOE) progress made in resolving the many environmental, safety, management,and health problems identified at its contractor- operated sites throughout the country. As agreed with your offices, this report provides information on the status of our recommendationsmade to DOEduring the 1980sconcerning environmental, safety, and health matters relating to its nuclear weapons complex.* In over 60 reports and testimonies published since 1980, we have called Results in Brief attention to the mounting problems facing DOE'Snuclear weapons com- plex. This body of work includes (1) identifying serious, costly, and widespread environmental, safety, and health problems at DOE facilities, (2) calling for outside independent oversight of DOE'Snuclear operations, and (3) making recommendationsto DOEto strengthen its oversight, pro- viding more detailed information and plans to the Congress,and improv- ing its management and accounting practices. In total, our reports and testimonies have included 64 recommendations to DOE, in addition to recommendationsto the Congress,concerning envi- ronmental, safety, and health matters at the complex. We consider 23 of the 64 recommendationsto be still open. The open recommendationscall for improvements such as tighter program controls and clearer stan- dards and policies related to environmental, safety, and health matters. DOE'Soperations are carried out at many contractor-operated sites Background around the country, including major sites within the nuclear weapons complex that are involved in the production of nuclear material for weapons and naval fuel. At these sites DOEcontractors routinely use and generate large quantities of a wide range of hazardous and radioactive materials. Becausethese materials require special handling by workers ‘Also pursuant to your Mar. 15, 1989, request, we provided you a report entitled Nuclear Health and Safety: Need for Improved Responsiveness to Problems at DOE Sites (GAO/RCED-90-101, Mar. 28, 1990). Page 1 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to Es&H Recommendations 4 E-221292 to prevent exposure to themselves or releasesinto the environment, DOE’s weapons complex, considered in its entirety, is among the poten- tially more dangerous industrial operations in the world. Over the last decade,at the request of the Congress,we have carried out a series of assessmentsand evaluations of various aspectsof the complex. Since 1980, we have issued over 60 reports and testimonies identifying Impact of GAO’s Work important problems and evaluating programmatic issuesrelated to envi- Concerning the ronmental, safety, and health matters at sites in DOE’s nuclear weapons WeaponsComplex complex. Collectively, these reports and testimonies have contributed to congressionalunderstanding and the national debate about the problems surrounding the complex. More specifically, we have l identified and described serious, costly, and widespread environmental, safety, and health problems at numerous DOE facilities; . called for outside independent oversight of DOE’S nuclear operations; and . made recommendationsto DOE aimed at strengthening environmental, safety, and health oversight; providing more detailed information and plans to the Congressconcerning the magnitude and resolution of DOE’S environmental, safety, and health problems; and improving DOE’s man- agement and accounting practices as they relate to these problems. During the early 1980s DOE disputed someof our findings and recom- mendations, denying that the problems were as serious as we indicated. However, within the past few years the seriousnessof the situation fac- ing DOE’S facilities has comesharply into focus. We have identified and described in our reports (1) environmental contamination at someDOE sites, (2) important safety problems associatedwith DOE’S production reactors, and (3) the overall deteriorating condition of the nuclear weap- ons complex. Further, to put the enormity of these problems in perspec- tive, we reported in July 1988 that the cost to rebuild and clean up the complex, while still uncertain, could total up to $165 billion.z Although DOE now acknowledgesthat it faces a massive cleanup and modernization effort, our 1988 transition report pointed out that the Department must overcome serious credibility problems.3For example, it needsto emphasizeto line managerstheir responsibility and accounta- bjlity for dealing with safety and environmental problems while also ‘Nuclear Health and S With Problems in the Nuclear Defense Complex Expected to Cost her 2 100 Wllion ( 197BR, July 6,1988). knergy Issues (GAO/OCG-89-16TR, Nov. 1988). Page 2 GAO/RCED-90426 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations B-281293 strengthening its internal capability for ensuring that the problems are being identified and resolved. We have encouragedimportant programmatic changesfor the complex. For example, we consistently called for outside independent oversight of DOE operations to help assurethe public that DOE’S facilities are operat- ing safely and that the Department has a credible safety review process. DOE initially disagreed with the need for such oversight. However, the Congress,recognizing the need, directed in 1988 establishment of the DefenseNuclear Facilities Safety Board to overseefacilities within the complex. Board memberswere appointed in 1989. Additionally, we have focused attention on DOE’S funding priorities for various programs. For example, in 1989 we questioned the need for DOE building a special iso- tope separation facility costing $600 million.4 DOE disagreed with our views, but the Congresshas moved to prevent funding of its construc- tion, and DOE has since announcedthat it will close out the program. Our reports since 1980 have made 64 specific recommendationsto DOE Status of on various environmental, safety, and health matters relating to the Recommendations nuclear weapons complex. In addition, we have made recommendations to the Congresson departmental environmental, safety, and health issues.The recommendations directed at DOE as the overseer of the com- plex have called for, among other things, broad planning, programmatic, and managementchangeswithin the Department. We have also made recommendations calling for DOE to correct specific problems at sites and facilities around the country. While directed at DOE, many of the recom- mendations are also relevant to the operating contractors at the individ- ual sites. Actions Taken by DOE in DOE has taken corrective actions on most of our recommendations.Of the Responseto Our 54 recommendations we made in the 1980s we consider 31(57 percent) closed-that is, DOE took actions that substantially, if not entirely, ful- Recommendations filled the intent of the recommendation. Examples of someof the more significant DOE actions that are responsive to our recommendations are as follows: 4GAO’s Views on Modernizing and Cleaning Up DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Complex (GAO/T- -89 -9, Feb. 21,1989). Page 3 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations l&231293 . establishing within DOE an Office of Assistant Secretary of Environment, Safety, and Health to overseeDOE'S operations6 l completing safety analysis reports for all high hazard facilities, l issuing an overall strategic plan for DOE'S nuclear weapons complex, l improving DOE'S accounting and budgeting for environmental funding, and l allowing independent inspections of DOE mixed waste operations.” These and other actions taken on our recommendationsshould result in a higher degreeof DOE sensitivity to environmental, safety, and health matters. Actions Needed on Open Although DOE has undertaken corrective actions on most of our 64 rec- Recommendations ommendations, we still consider 23 of them (43 percent) open because corrective actions either have not been substantially completed or do not adequately addressthe identified problem. The open recommendations call for various improvements such as tighter program controls and clearer standards and policies related to environmental, safety, and health matters. Fifteen of the open recommendationswere made in 1989,ll of which were in the last quarter of the year. However, someof our recommendations have been open for several years, For example, in 1986 we recommendedthat DOE establish a groundwater and soil protection strategy to protect the environment at and around its many field sites throughout the country.7 This recom- mendation is still open becausealthough DOE has drafted a strategy it has not yet finalized it. In addition, two 1985 recommendations remain open: (1) making radiological monitoring guides mandatory for all DOE facilities and (2) developing coordinated, independent verification of contractor-reported radiological data.RDOE has taken someaction on these two recommendations,but its efforts have been delayed several times. As a result, we still consider these recommendationsopen. “This position has not yet been legislatively established as we recommended to the Congress. “Mixed waste is a combination of hazardous and radioactive waste. 7Nuclear Energy: Environmental Issues at DOE’s Nuclear Defense Facilities (GAO/RCED-86-192, Sept. 8, 1986). *Environment, Safety, and Health: Environment and Workers Could Be Better Protected at Ohio Defense Plants (GAO/RC%ID-86 -61 , Dec. 13,1986). Page 4 GAO/RCED-90-126 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations . 5231298 We expect that DOE will make progress to closeout someadditional rec- ommendations during the first quarter of 1990. For example, in 1989 we made a number of recommendationsto DOE regarding restructuring its award fee processto ensure that awards given to contractors adequately reflect their environmental, safety, and health performance.” DOE has taken steps to restructure its award process,and we expect to closeout all of these recommendations in the near future. Oncethese recommen- dations are fully implemented, we expect that the revised award fee processwill not only more accurately reflect the contractor’s perform- ance but will also likely save the government millions of dollars. The status of all of our open recommendationsto DOE on environmental, safety, and health matters related to the nuclear weapons complex is shown in appendix I. Three important results stem from our work during the 1980s.First, DOE Conclusions now recognizesthe serious environmental, safety, and health problems within the nuclear weapons complex and is planning corrective meas- ures. Second,the Congresshas established a DefenseNuclear Facilities Safety Board to overseeoperations within the complex. Third, DOE has instituted a number of changesin its way of doing business-such as better highlighting environmental funding in the budget-that should result in a higher degreeof sensitivity to environmental, safety, and health matters. Nevertheless, DOE faces a massive, long-term effort in correcting past problems and bringing the complex into full compliance with all environ- mental, safety, and health laws and regulations. Many improvements recommendedby us and others still need to be addressed.Further, new issueswill likely be raised as DOE moves forward in cleaning up and modernizing the complex. Accordingly, we will continue to monitor and review DOE’S operations to help ensure that they are carried out in a safe and environmentally acceptablemanner. To develop the information for the report, we examined data on the sta- tus of our environmental, safety, and health recommendationsmade to DOE during the 1980s concerning its nuclear weapons complex. Relying on data from our internal recommendation tracking system, DOE’S audit ‘Nuclear Health and Safety: DOE’s Award Fees at Rocky Flats Do Not Adequately Reflect ES&H Problems (GAO/m Junta- blevironmental Perforknce (GAO/RCED%IO-23, Oct. 30,1989). Page 5 GAO/RCED-90-128 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations R-231293 recommendation tracking system, and other GAOand DOEdocuments- along with discussionswith GAOand DOEofficials-we compiled a list of our recommendationson environmental, safety, and health matters relating to the complex and updated their status. We discussedthe information presented in this report with DOEoffi- cials-who generally agreed with how we portrayed the status of our recommendationsto DoE-and incorporated their views as appropriate. As you requested, however, we did not obtain official agency comments on a draft of the report. This work was performed between November 1989 and January 1990. Unless you publicly announceits contents earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report for 30 days from the date of this letter. At that time we will send copies to the Chairman, SenateCommittee on Governmental Affairs; the Chairman, Environment, Energy and Natural ResourcesSubcommittee, House Committee on Government Operations; the Secretary, DOE;and other interested parties. If you have any ques- tions regarding this report, please call me at (202) 275-1441.Major con- are listed in appendix II. Director, Energy Issues Page 6 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations Page 7 GAO/RCED-90425 DOE Responsiveness to E%H Recommendations Contents Letter Appendix I DOE’s Nuclear WeaponsComplex: Status of Open GAO Environmental, Safety, and Health Recommendations Appendix II 16 Major Contributors to This Report Abbreviations CERCLA ComprehensiveEnvironmental Response,Compensation, and Liability Act DOE Department of Energy ES&H environmental, safety, and health GAO General Accounting Office RCED Resources,Community, and Economic Development Division RCRA ResourceConservation and Recovery Act Page 8 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations Y Page 9 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations Appendix I DOE’sNuclear WeaponsComplex:Status of OpenGAO Environmental, Safety, and Health Recommendations Nuclear Health and Safety: Better Earthquake Protection Neededat DOE'S Savannah River Site (GAO/RCED-90-24, Dec. 26, 1989) 1, Establish a comprehensive,systematic seismic program for the reac- tors and other high-risk facilities at Savannah River. Status: DOE has not yet formally respondedto the recommendation but is planning to implement such a program over the next several years. 2. Conduct an examination to determine the need to upgrade seismic programs at DOE locations with high-risk nuclear facilities. Status: DOE has not yet formally respondedto the recommendation. Nuclear Health and Safety: Savannah River’s Unusual Occurrence Reporting Program Has Been Ineffective (GAO/RCEDQO-63, Dec. 26, 1989) 3. Require the Savannah River Operations Office to establish formal written procedures for (1) reviewing and analyzing the contractor’s internal reports and (2) evaluating the contractor’s internal reporting system to ensure that it is compatible with the objectives of DOE's Unusual OccurrenceReporting program. Status: WE has not yet formally respondedto the recommendation. 4. ReviseDOE'S Unusual OccurrenceReporting order to more clearly specify which reactor-related events should be reported to DOE head- quarters as unusual occurrences. Status: DOE has not yet formally respondedto the recommendation. A revised order is in process. Nuclear Waste:Storage Issues at DOE'S Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico (GAo/RcED-90-1,Dec. 81989) 6. Provide the Congresswith technical justification for storing waste in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, including the quantity of such waste, in advance of determining if the facility can be used as a repository. Status: DOE has not yet formally respondedto the recommendation. Page 10 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&Ii Recommendations DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Complex: Status of Open GAO Environmental, Safety, and Health Recommendations 6. Provide the Congresswith contingency plans for disposing of wastes stored in the WasteIsolation Pilot Plant in the event that DOEeventually determines that the facility doesnot meet disposal standards. Status: DOEhas not yet formally respondedto the recommendation. 7. Provide the Congresswith options for continued waste storage at other DOEfacilities while DOEis completing its assessmentof the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s compliance with the standards. Status: DOEhas not yet formally respondedto the recommendation. Nuclear Health and Safety: DOE'sAward Feesat Rocky Flats Do Not Adequately Reflect ES&HProblems (GAO~RCED-90-47, Oct. 23, 1989) 8. Ensure that there is reasonablebalance between production and envi- ronmental, safety, and health (ES&H) performance in the award process. Further, if awards are to be given for accomplishing specific objectives, ensure that such objectives do not conflict with ES&Hobjectives. Status: DOEhas taken steps to ensure a more reasonablebalance in the process,but further steps are neededto implement the latter part of the recommendation. 9. Restructure the award processto reduce the level of discretion exer- cised in making a final award fee determination. Status: DOEnow requires that headquarters review all award fee plans, which it believes reducesthe discretion of field office contract adminis- trators, and is considering providing field offices with further guidance on use of the award fee process-which may reduce their discretion further. Hazardous Waste:Contractors Should Be Accountable for Environmen- talperformance (GAO~RCED-90-23,&t.30, 1989) 10. Initiate a rulemaking to revise WE'S current policy and practice of paying for penalties, settlement payments, and legal costs incurred by its contractors, Recognizingthat there may be limited circumstances warranting such payment, the revised policy should include criteria that detail when such payments should or should not be allowed. Page 11 GAO/RCED-90425 DOE Responsiveness to EZ38rH Recommendations Appendix I DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Complex: Status of Open GAO Environmental, Saf’ety, and Health Recommendations Status: DOEhas published a draft rulemaking for comment and hopes to soon finalize the rulemaking. 11. Initiate, along with the Secretary of Defense,a rulemaking to revise regulations to require all award-fee contracts to include environmental performance as a distinct evaluation area. Status: DOEhas issued a departmental notice requiring more attention to ES&Hperformance in evaluations but believes a rulemaking is not necessary. Nuclear Waste:DOE'SManagementof Single-ShellTanks at Hanford, Washington (GAO~RCED-89-167, July 18, 1989) 12. Conduct a data-gathering program sufficient to assessthe risks and extent of groundwater contamination from tank leaks of mobile, nonradioactive contaminants and mobile, long-lived radioactive substances. Status: Tank sampling and groundwater well drilling are planned but have not yet begun. 13. Assign appropriate resourcesand priority to the single-shell tank pumping program to ensure that (1) at a minimum, all feasibly pumpable liquid is removed from the tanks by 1996 and (2) the 1996 goal is not used to delay removal of liquid that could be pumped before 1996. Status: DOEplans to complete these pumping activities by the end of fis- cal year 1996. 14. Develop specific plans to replace the gravel surfaces at tank farms with a less permeable material and promptly replace the gravel surfaces if ongoing studies indicate that these surfaces could promote the move- ment of waste toward the groundwater. Status: A DOEengineering study to support the planning GAOrecom- mends is ongoing and expected to be completed in fiscal year 1990. GAO'SViews on DOE'SNew Production Reactor Selection Process(GAO/T- ~C~~89-46, May 24,1989) Page 12 GAO/RCED-!40-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations , c DOE% Nuclear Weapons Complex: Status of Open GAO Envlromnental, SafeQ, and Health Recommendations 16. DOE should, prior to reaching a final decision on the new production reactors, now scheduledfor late 1991, provide the Congresswith an in- depth analysis of the schedule,costs, and benefits of each option. Status: DOE has not yet provided this analysis but plans to do so before reaching a decision. Nuclear Health and Safety: DOE Needsto Take Further Actions to Ensure Safe Transportation of Radioactive Materials (GAO/RCED-88-196, Sept. 27,1988) 16. Promptly develop written guidance for addressing and resolving safety-related concernsraised about the packagesused to ship nonweapons,high-level radioactive materials, as authorized by DOE Order 6480.3. This guidance should include provisions for approving the continued use of these packagesby an organization that doesnot man- age their use. Status: Despite several GAO contacts on the recommendation, DOE has not yet formally respondedto the recommendation. The required responseis over a year overdue. According to DOE, a responsehas been drafted, but it is unclear when it might be finalized.’ 17. Promptly conduct an independent review of all available documenta- tion to ensure that nuclear weapons package designsmeet all applicable safety regulations. Status: Sameas recommendation 16. 18. Assign responsibility for certifying nuclear weapons packagesto the centralized certification office at DOE headquarters, as was done for DOE’S nonweaponspackages. Status: Sameas recommendation 16. Nuclear Health and Safety: Oversight at DOE’S Nuclear Facilities Can Be Strengthened (GAOIRCED-88-137, July 8, 1988) ‘On Mar. 20,1990, as this report was being finalized for issuance, DOE provided m official response to recommendations 16, 17 and 18. We are presently considering the response. Page 13 GAO/RCED-!M-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations ‘, Appendix I DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Complex Status of Opem GAO Environmental, Safety, and Health Recommendations 19. ReviseDOEorders to establish meaningful safety standards and implementation policies to guide continued operation of existing facili- ties and to use as baseline safety criteria for developing its future strat- egy for the defensecomplex. This revision should include a formal processto (1) clearly identify the commercial standards, guides, and codesthat should be applied to DOE'Snuclear facilities and (2) justify when a standard is not met. Status: Revised orders are in various stagesof development. All were planned for completion during 1989 and 1990 but are being delayed indefinitely by DOE'Srealignment of responsibilities for nuclear safety policy development. Nuclear Energv: Environmental Issues at DOE'SNuclear DefenseFacili- ties (GAO/RCED-86-192, Sept. 8, 1986) 20. Develop an overall groundwater and soil protection strategy to pro- vide the public and the Congressa better perspective on the environ- mental risks and impacts associatedwith operating DOE'Snuclear defense facilities. Status: DOEhas drafted a strategy paper and applicable DOEnotice, both of which it expects to finalize in the third or fourth quarter of 1990. Nuclear Safety: Safety Analysis Reviews for DOE'SDefenseFacilities Can Be Improved (GAO/RCED~~-176,June 16, 1986) 21. Develop more consistent requirements to be followed in preparing safety analysis reports, outlining appropriate methodologies and assumptions to be used in analyzing accidents and their consequences. Status: Draft requirements are still under DOE'Sreview, and DOEhopes to finalize them during 1990. Environment, Safety, and Health: Environment and Workers Could Be Better Protected at Ohio DefensePlants (GAOjRCED-86-61, Dec. 13, 1985) 22. Require that radiological monitoring guides be mandatory for all DOE facilities. Status: A new DOEorder on environmental radiological protection was issued on Feb. 8, 1990. DOEexpects an order on monitoring and surveil- lance to be issued in fiscal year 1990. Page 14 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&II Recommendations Appendix I DGE’s Nuclear Weapons Complex: St&us of Open GAO Environmental, Safety, and Health Recommendations 23. Develop a coordinated DoE/state/contractor system to independently verify contractor-reported environmental monitoring data. Status: DOE is negotiating with 10 states to implement this recommenda- tion, expecting to complete negotiations by the end of March 1990. Page 16 GAO/RCED-90-125 DOE Responsiveness to ES&H Recommendations Appendix II Major Contributors to This &port Judy England-Joseph,Associate Director Resources, Carl J. Bannerman, Assistant Director Community, and William F. Fenzel,Assignment Manager David L. Brack, Evaluator-in-Charge Economic DeveloPment Division, Frederick A. Harter, Advisor Washington, D.C. (801907) Page 16 GAO/RCED-QO-126 DOE Responsiveness to JSS&H Recommendations li -_-. ~ ---__ --...““-- “- --._.- -.._-___- l_.__-___l_.-, I .--., .-“___,_“-- _” ._.__.._. --_-.-__-___ ._.____._.._ _.____ -,___ _-I .__.--. --.--_--
Nuclear Health and Safety: Status of GAO's Environmental, Safety, and Health Recommendations to DOE
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-04-20.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)