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)

April   1990
               NUCLEAR HEALTH
               AND SAFETY
               Status of GAO’s
               Environmental, Safety,
               and Health
               Recommendations to

                                  I IllIll1
                   United States
GAO                General Accounting Office
                   Washington, DG 20548

                   Resources, Community,           and
                   Economic Development            Division

                   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,

                   Page 1                      GAO/RCED-90-125     DOE Responsiveness     to Es&H Recommendations


                           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

                          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

                         . 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,
                         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

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

              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

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

Appendix I
DOE’s Nuclear
Status of Open GAO
Safety, and Health
Appendix II                                                                                                 16
Major Contributors to
This Report


                        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

    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

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

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
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
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
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

        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.
        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
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
DeveloPment Division,   Frederick A. Harter, Advisor

Washington, D.C.

(801907)                Page 16            GAO/RCED-QO-126   DOE Responsiveness   to JSS&H Recommendations
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