oversight

Department of Energy: Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats: Status and Obstacles

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-04-30.

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

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to the Chairman, Committee on
                  Armed Services, U.S. Senate



April 1999
                  DEPARTMENT OF
                  ENERGY

                  Accelerated Closure of
                  Rocky Flats: Status
                  and Obstacles




GAO/RCED-99-100
GAO   United States
      General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548                                          Leter




      Resources, Community and
      Economic Development Division

      B-282092                                                                                        Letter

      April 30, 1999

      The Honorable John W. Warner
      Chairman, Committee on
       Armed Services
      United States Senate

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      In response to your request, this report reviews the Department of Energy’s ability to close the
      Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site by the end of 2006. Specifically, it examines (1)
      DOE’s plans for accelerating the site’s closure and challenges that could impede closure; (2)
      the condition of the site at closure and the activities that will remain after closure; and (3) the
      costs of closing the site and the savings expected from accelerating its closure.

      As arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no
      further distribution of this report until 15 days after the date of this letter. At that time, we will
      send copies of this report to the Honorable Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy; the
      Honorable Jacob Lew, Director, Office of Management and Budget; and other interested
      parties. Copies will also be made available to others upon request.

      Please call me at (202) 512-3841 if you or your staff have any questions. Major contributors to
      this report are listed in appendix II.

      Sincerely yours,




      (Ms.) Gary L. Jones
      Associate Director, Energy,
       Resources, and Science Issues
Executive Summary



Purpose      In 1989, the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site stopped making
             plutonium components for nuclear weapons, leaving the Department of
             Energy (DOE) with the challenge of managing and cleaning up nearly 40
             years’ worth of contamination at the site. Compared with the other sites in
             DOE’s former nuclear weapons production complex, Rocky Flats has some
             of the most dangerous and highest-risk materials and facilities. Currently,
             DOE is spending approximately two-thirds of the site’s annual budget of
             nearly $700 million to maintain the site in a relatively safe and secure state,
             with the remaining one-third going to cleanup. Partly because of these high
             maintenance costs, the Department developed plans in fiscal year 1994 to
             clean up and close the site. Subsequently, DOE advanced the site’s goal for
             closure several times, from the original date of 2070 to the current date of
             2006.

             Concerned about the Department’s ability to meet its current goal to close
             Rocky Flats by the end of 2006, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on
             Armed Services asked GAO to review (1) DOE’s plans for accelerating the
             site’s closure and challenges that could impede closure; (2) the condition of
             the site at closure and the activities that will remain after closure; and (3)
             the costs of closing the site and the savings expected from accelerating its
             closure.



Background   The Rocky Flats site, located at the base of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains,
             lies about 16 miles northwest of Denver. More than 2.5 million people live
             within a 50-mile radius of the site. Of particular concern are the site’s
             special nuclear materials--such as plutonium and uranium--and radioactive
             wastes, which pose substantial risks to workers, the public, and the
             environment. In 1995, after entering into a 5-year contract with DOE to
             manage Rocky Flats, Kaiser-Hill Company, L.L.C., began to stabilize and
             consolidate these materials for safe storage until they could be removed
             from the site. Kaiser-Hill and DOE also began to arrange for other DOE and
             commercial facilities to receive the various radioactive and hazardous
             materials and wastes that had accumulated at the site or were by-products
             of cleanup activities. Some wastes will be generated in large quantities
             throughout the site’s cleanup.

             In 1996, DOE signed the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement with the U.S.
             Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Colorado, the
             primary regulators of cleanup activities at Rocky Flats. Under the cleanup
             agreement, special nuclear materials will be removed by 2015; other



             Page 2                          GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                   Executive Summary




                   radioactive and hazardous wastes will be removed; and all buildings will be
                   decontaminated, decommissioned, and demolished. DOE plans to close
                   the site when those tasks are complete. Also in 1996, DOE’s Office of
                   Environmental Management revamped its plans for cleaning up the
                   Department’s contaminated sites, attempting to accelerate the closure of
                   sites and coordinate cleanup activities across the DOE complex. In
                   response, in 1997, Kaiser-Hill proposed advancing Rocky Flats’ closure to
                   2010.1 This plan remains in effect today, even though DOE has since
                   accelerated the target date for closing the site to the end of 2006.

                   The cleanup and closure of Rocky Flats involves not only DOE and the
                   site’s contractor and subcontractors but also regulatory and oversight
                   agencies and others with an interest in the site’s cleanup and closure. In
                   addition to EPA and Colorado, the site's regulatory and oversight bodies
                   include the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the
                   Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Other interested parties--or
                   stakeholders--include local governments; citizen, community, business, and
                   environmental groups; and individuals.



Results in Brief   While DOE and Kaiser-Hill have had some success in accelerating cleanup
                   activities, it is questionable whether they can meet the Department’s target
                   date of 2006 for cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats at the costs and
                   savings originally projected. They face numerous challenges, significant
                   compression of scheduled activities, and unresolved issues relating to the
                   disposal of certain wastes and the site’s condition at closure.

                   Kaiser-Hill has encountered delays in implementing its plan to close the site
                   in 2010 and expects to have a detailed plan and schedule for closing the site
                   by the end of 2006 in May 1999. DOE and Kaiser-Hill believe that the
                   contractor can take advantage of “learning curves and efficiencies” gained
                   through early efforts to expedite cleanup and closure activities. However,
                   DOE and Kaiser-Hill must overcome various challenges to accelerate key
                   activities to close the site by the end of 2006. For example, they have to
                   compress the 2010 schedule, which calls for decontaminating and
                   decommissioning the majority of the site’s buildings from 2005 through
                   2007 and demolishing over two-thirds of the buildings in 2006 or later.
                   However, the contractor has not determined how to compress these


                   1
                       The 2010 plan is based on closing the site by the end of fiscal year 2010.




                   Page 3                                         GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Executive Summary




activities enough to close the site by the end of 2006, and some site officials
question both the feasibility of compressing the schedule and the
availability of resources, especially of qualified workers. Furthermore,
while the plans for closing the site depend on other organizations within
and outside the Department to take the site's materials and wastes for
storage or disposal, several types of materials and wastes--including some
low-level radioactive waste and some uranium--have no sites available to
take them. Nevertheless, DOE and Kaiser-Hill officially maintain that the
contractor can close the site by the end of 2006, primarily by taking
advantage of lessons learned and efficiencies gained through experience.

DOE, EPA, and Colorado have agreed, in general, on the condition of the
site when it is closed. Nevertheless, many specific decisions still must be
made. Issues remaining to be resolved include how the site will be used in
the future and what level of cleanup will be required. If a more stringent
cleanup level will be required than the interim level agreed to by DOE, EPA,
and Colorado, the site’s closure could be delayed. In addition, DOE is just
starting to consider issues that will be important after the site is closed,
such as who will own, monitor, and maintain the site and what barriers will
be used to prevent exposure to residual contamination. Developing plans
and cost estimates for the site after closure will be difficult until agreement
has been reached on all aspects of the site's closure and on future uses of
the site.

The costs of cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats could be higher than
DOE's official estimate of $7.3 billion2 for fiscal year 1997 through fiscal
year 2010. Although DOE has not validated the accuracy of this estimate,
DOE and contractor site managers maintain that the site can be closed for
$7.3 billion. However, the contractor’s 1998 detailed cost estimate, based
on the costs of specific projects needed to close the site, totaled $8.4
billion. Assumptions underlying both estimates have changed or have the
potential to change, generally indicating higher costs. In addition, these
estimates do not include the costs that will be incurred after the site is
closed, which could range from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars
over a period of the first 30 to 40 years. Finally, the savings estimate for
accelerating the site’s closure from 2010 to 2006 was based on avoiding the
costs of operating and maintaining the site for 4 years. Therefore, if closure
occurs after 2006, the savings could be less than DOE’s $1.3 billion


2
  Unless otherwise noted, dollar values represent the sum of annual expenditures and incorporate an
annual 2.7-percent increase for expected inflation.




Page 4                                    GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                             Executive Summary




                             estimate. A preliminary estimate presented by the contractor in February
                             1999 indicates that the savings from closing the site by the end of 2006
                             could be lower.

                             DOE’s decision to accelerate the closure of Rocky Flats to 2006 is laudable.
                             If the cleanup and closure can be accelerated, health and safety risks may
                             be reduced and financial benefits may be achieved. With the May 1999
                             issuance of Kaiser-Hill’s detailed plan for closing the site by the end of 2006,
                             the likelihood of this effort’s success and the accompanying potential
                             benefits will become clearer.



Principal Findings

DOE Faces Many               Although Kaiser-Hill does not expect to have detailed plans for closing the
Challenges in Accelerating   site by the end of 2006 until May 1999, both DOE and the contractor believe
                             that the accelerated closure date is feasible. While developing detailed
the Site’s Closure
                             plans, the contractor is attempting to advance scheduled activities,
                             especially those viewed as critical to closing the site by the end of 2006.
                             However, some of the work completed to date has fallen behind the
                             existing schedule for closing the site in 2010. For example, the contractor
                             has encountered delays in preparing several types of nuclear wastes for
                             removal, as well as delays in shipping special nuclear materials from the
                             site--both considered key to closing the site in 2010.

                             The contractor has identified four key activities that must be accelerated to
                             close the site by the end of 2006. These include (1) removing about 106
                             metric tons of plutonium-contaminated residues left over from nuclear
                             weapons production; (2) shipping approximately 16.5 metric tons of special
                             nuclear materials off-site; (3) decontaminating and decommissioning the
                             site’s 691 buildings and facilities; and (4) constructing barriers to prevent
                             exposure to residual contamination. The contractor has had some
                             successes in accelerating some of these activities. However, challenges in
                             implementing each of these activities could hinder acceleration. For
                             example, the site has had difficulty readying the residues and special
                             nuclear materials for removal from the site; decontamination and
                             decommissioning are costing more and taking longer than anticipated; and
                             DOE and the contractor have not reached agreement with the site’s
                             regulators or stakeholders on the use of protective barriers over portions of
                             the industrial area.



                             Page 5                           GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                                Executive Summary




                                Other challenges within and outside the Department could also hinder
                                closure. For example, the operation of DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in
                                New Mexico was delayed because of regulatory issues and litigation.3
                                Consequently, Rocky Flats could not dispose of radioactive waste there. In
                                addition, several types of “orphan” materials and wastes--including some
                                low-level radioactive and hazardous wastes and some uranium
                                contaminated with plutonium or hazardous materials--have no site
                                available to take them. To overcome these challenges, DOE is working
                                with the site's regulators and stakeholders to coordinate Rocky Flats’
                                cleanup and closure activities with other organizations within and outside
                                the Department. However, DOE’s progress in accelerating the site's closure
                                will depend, in part, on the priority given to Rocky Flats’ activities by other
                                DOE sites and organizations; the availability of transportation resources;
                                and litigation, which is largely outside DOE’s control.


Status of the Site at Closure   Although there is general consensus that Rocky Flats should be closed,
and Activities Required         DOE has not reached agreement with regulators or other stakeholders on
                                specifics of the condition of the site at closure or on its future uses.
After Closure Have Not
                                According to DOE, it is moving forward on decisions concerning the
Been Defined                    closure of the site and activities after closure in accordance with the
                                regulatory requirements governing the site’s cleanup. In the meantime,
                                DOE and the contractor are basing their closure plans and estimates on
                                broad goals and objectives addressed in the Rocky Flats Cleanup
                                Agreement. These include removing the site’s special nuclear materials,
                                radioactive and hazardous wastes, and buildings, as well as cleaning up the
                                site’s 6,000-acre buffer zone for use as open space and its 385-acre former
                                production area for potential industrial use or for use as restricted open
                                space.

                                Decisions or changes to assumptions about the status of Rocky Flats at
                                closure could affect current and future cleanup requirements and,
                                therefore, the feasibility of closing the site by the end of 2006. For
                                example, the specifics of the future uses of the site are still undecided.
                                Similarly, the interim soil cleanup level agreed to by DOE and the
                                regulators has been questioned by local governments and by citizen and
                                environmental groups. A change to a more stringent cleanup level could

                                3
                                  The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is DOE’s deep geologic repository for transuranic and transuranic
                                mixed waste, located in an underground salt formation near Carlsbad, New Mexico. On Mar. 26, 1999,
                                DOE made its first shipment to the facility from Los Alamos. DOE anticipates beginning shipments
                                from Rocky Flats over the next several months.




                                Page 6                                   GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                           Executive Summary




                           entail more cleanup work and could ultimately affect the site’s closure
                           date.

                           DOE is just beginning to consider how Rocky Flats will be used after it is
                           closed. No decisions have been made about whether additional cleanup or
                           the removal of roads and other remaining infrastructure will be required;
                           who will own, monitor and maintain the site; or what kinds of barriers
                           (physical or legal) will be used to prevent exposure to residual
                           contamination at the site. Although DOE is developing draft guidance for
                           all of its sites on activities and responsibilities after closure, this guidance
                           will take several years to develop. In any event, until DOE and the
                           regulators have agreed on the condition of the site at closure and its future
                           uses, DOE may not be able to plan effectively for activities after closure.


Costs of Closing Rocky     DOE’s official estimate of the costs to clean up and close Rocky Flats is
Flats May Be Higher Than   $7.3 billion. This estimate is based on a 1997 proposal by Kaiser-Hill to
                           close the site in 2010. Both DOE and the contractor maintain that the site
Estimated
                           can be closed in 2010 for $7.3 billion; however, several factors suggest that
                           the costs could be substantially higher. First, Kaiser-Hill’s mid-level
                           managers responsible for specific projects necessary for closure recently
                           estimated that it would cost $8.4 billion to close the site. This estimate was
                           based on the same major assumptions and schedule that Kaiser-Hill used
                           for the $7.3 billion estimate. Finally, a number of assumptions underlying
                           the $7.3 billion estimate have changed or have the potential to change in
                           ways that would generally increase costs. For example, the contractor’s
                           assumptions about the costs of decontaminating and decommissioning the
                           site’s facilities changed with experience, causing the contractor to nearly
                           triple the cost estimate for these activities.

                           DOE’s costs to manage Rocky Flats will not end when the site is closed.
                           Because DOE and the regulators have not yet defined DOE’s
                           responsibilities after closure, DOE has not developed detailed cost
                           estimates. However, according to DOE site officials, DOE could incur
                           costs of as much as $100 million4 for additional cleanup; $20 million to $50
                           million per year for monitoring and maintenance,5 and at least $50 million


                           4Unless otherwise noted, the cost estimates for activities after closure are in fiscal year 1998 constant
                           dollars and are net of inflation.

                           5
                             Site officials estimate that the total cost of monitoring and maintaining the site through 2040, including
                           adjustments for expected inflation, will be nearly $1.5 billion.




                           Page 7                                      GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                  Executive Summary




                  per year for workers’ pensions and benefits. In addition, DOE could be
                  exposed to litigation seeking compensation for damages resulting from the
                  effects of the site’s activities on workers, nearby residents, or natural
                  resources.

                  DOE originally estimated that it would save $1.3 billion by closing the site
                  by the end of 2006 instead of in 2010. This estimate represented the basic
                  costs of operating and maintaining the site for 4 years--costs that DOE
                  would avoid by closing the site 4 years earlier. However, given the progress
                  to date and the challenges that remain, several site officials questioned the
                  feasibility of closing the site by the end of 2006. As long as the site remains
                  open, DOE will continue to incur operations and maintenance costs,
                  thereby reducing the savings. In addition, the contractor's February 1999
                  preliminary cost estimate for closing the site by the end of 2006 indicated
                  that the savings from closing the site 4 years earlier may be only $700
                  million.



Recommendations   This report makes no recommendations.



Agency Comments   GAO provided a draft of this report to DOE for its review and comment.
                  The Department generally concurred with the facts of the report, stating
                  that GAO had done a thorough job of documenting the complexity,
                  uncertainties, and challenges the Department is facing in accelerating the
                  closure of Rocky Flats. However, the Department commented that while
                  the report does note some of the site’s accomplishments, it does not
                  adequately recognize the progress already made or the obstacles already
                  overcome. GAO added material to the report to more thoroughly discuss
                  the actions that DOE has taken. In addition, the Department raised a
                  concern that the report identifies uncertainties facing the site’s closure that
                  (1) are subject to the regulations governing the cleanup, (2) are not at a
                  point where resolution is necessary, or (3) are not obstacles to closure
                  because the resolution of some uncertainties falls under the Rocky Flats
                  Cleanup Agreement. On the basis of DOE’s comments, GAO added
                  information to the report, such as statements about the Department’s
                  actions under the regulations governing the site’s cleanup, including the
                  Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
                  While DOE does not view the issues discussed as obstacles to closure, GAO
                  believes that the issues could affect the site’s closure because they are




                  Page 8                          GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Executive Summary




subject to a number of decisions and changes; as a result, GAO did not
revise this part of the report.

More detailed discussions of the Department’s comments are included at
the end of chapters 2 and 3. The full text of DOE’s comments is presented
in appendix I. The Department separately provided a number of technical
comments, and GAO revised the report, where appropriate, to reflect them.




Page 9                        GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                       2


Chapter 1                 History of Rocky Flats                                                       12
                          Magnitude of the Cleanup and Closure Effort                                  13
Introduction              Parties Involved in Rocky Flats’ Cleanup and Closure                         22
                          Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                           25


Chapter 2                 Detailed Plan Assumes That the Site Will Be Closed in 2010                   28
                          Numerous Challenges Could Hinder Efforts to Accelerate Closure               30
Challenges to             Coordination of Closure Activities Could Affect Acceleration                 37
Accelerating the Site’s   Challenges Outside DOE’s Control Could Affect Closure                        44
                          Observations                                                                 45
Closure                   Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                           46


Chapter 3                 Full Agreement on the Status of the Site at Closure Has Not Been
                            Reached                                                                    47
Status of the Site at     Decisions on the Status of the Site at Closure May Affect Accelerated
Closure and Activities      Cleanup                                                                    48
                          DOE's Activities and Responsibilities After Closure Have Not Been
After Closure Have Not      Defined                                                                    53
Been Defined              Observations                                                                 55
                          Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                           56


Chapter 4                 Closure Costs May Be Higher Than Estimated                                   57
                          Costs After Rocky Flats Is Closed Could Be Substantial                       61
Costs of Closing Rocky    Estimated Savings May Be Reduced                                             64
Flats May Be Higher
Than Estimated
Appendixes                Appendix I: Comments From the Department of Energy                           66
                          Appendix II: Major Contributors to This Report                               70


Related GAO Products                                                                                   72


Figures                   Figure 1.1: Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site                        12
                          Figure 1.2: Cutaway View of Transuranic Waste Drums                          17
                          Figure 1.3: Sample “Pipe and Go” Container for Residues to Be
                            Disposed of at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant                             18



                          Page 10                       GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Figure 1.4: Remediation Activities at One of Rocky Flats’
  Contaminated Environmental Sites                                          21
Figure 2.1: A Rocky Flats Worker Handling Plutonium Residues in a
  Glovebox                                                                  31
Figure 2.2: Diagram of the Layers of a Closure Cap                          36
Figure 2.3: Sites That Have Accepted and Expect to Receive Rocky
  Flats’ Nuclear Materials and Wastes                                       39




Abbreviations

DOE     Department of Energy
CERCLA  Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
        Liability Act
EPA     Environmental Protection Agency
GAO     General Accounting Office
PCB     polychlorinated biphenyl
RCRA    Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
TRUPACT Transuranic Package Transporter
WIPP    Waste Isolation Pilot Plant



Page 11                      GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Chapter 1

Introduction                                                                                               Chapte1
                                                                                                                 r




History of Rocky Flats   Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, shown in figure 1.1, occupies
                         about 6,300 acres at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, about
                         16 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado. The site began operations in 1952
                         and, at the height of the Cold War, was 1 of 16 major U.S. defense nuclear
                         facilities. Rocky Flats received plutonium that was manufactured
                         elsewhere and produced plutonium triggers, or “pits,” for nuclear weapons.
                         Most nuclear materials and other hazardous substances used in the
                         production of plutonium pits were employed in the site’s industrial area--
                         about 385 acres in the center of the site, where most of the 691 buildings
                         and facilities were located. The remaining nearly 6,000 acres served as a
                         buffer zone to help ensure the security of the nuclear material and of the
                         site’s operations, as well as the safety of nearby residents.



                         Figure 1.1: Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site




                         Source: Kaiser-Hill.


                         For years, the site's principal regulators--the Environmental Protection
                         Agency (EPA) and the state of Colorado--expressed concerns about
                         potential threats to the environment and human health and safety at Rocky
                         Flats. In 1986, the Department of Energy (DOE) signed an agreement with
                         EPA and Colorado to ensure compliance with certain environmental
                         regulatory requirements and to establish milestones for major cleanup
                         operations. However, in 1989, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and



                         Page 12                          GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                      Chapter 1
                      Introduction




                      EPA officials raided Rocky Flats, responding to alleged violations of federal
                      environmental laws and regulations. After the raid, DOE stopped
                      production at the site. Environmental studies revealed that, over time,
                      radioactive and hazardous substances had been released into the
                      environment, contaminating the groundwater, soil, and surface water at the
                      site. In 1991, DOE signed a new agreement with EPA and Colorado to
                      ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations and to set
                      milestones for certain cleanup activities. However, DOE fell behind these
                      milestones and, in 1994, agreed to regulatory penalties and supplemental
                      environmental projects costing an additional $2.8 million.

                      In fiscal year 1994, the Department developed plans to close Rocky Flats.
                      In 1996, DOE signed another agreement with EPA and Colorado, called the
                      Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement, which allowed DOE and the regulators to
                      set priorities, make decisions on cleanup and closure, and establish
                      decision-making processes. Of particular concern to the regulators were
                      the weapons-grade special nuclear materials (plutonium and enriched
                      uranium) and other radioactive and hazardous materials left at the site
                      when production ceased. These materials pose substantial threats to the
                      environment and could jeopardize human health and safety. An estimated
                      2.5 million persons live within 50 miles of Rocky Flats, and recent growth
                      around the site, including residential and industrial construction adjacent
                      to the buffer zone, has raised concerns for DOE and the regulators about
                      possible future uses of the site.



Magnitude of the      When Rocky Flats was shut down in 1989, DOE assumed that the site
                      would resume production and left much of its 16.5 metric tons1 of special
Cleanup and Closure   nuclear materials in processing systems or short-term storage. But the site
Effort                did not resume operations, and the short-term storage proved inadequate
                      for the longer term, especially for plutonium, plutonium-contaminated
                      residues, and plutonium- and uranium-bearing solutions. In 1994, DOE’s
                      Plutonium Working Group identified numerous problems with Rocky Flats’
                      storage of plutonium and contaminated residues, including containers that
                      had ruptured because the materials were improperly packaged and stored.2
                      The group also reported that many of the site’s buildings and much of the
                      equipment, some dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, had deteriorated with

                      1A   metric ton is equal to 1 million grams, or 1.1 tons.
                      2
                       Plutonium Working Group Report on Environmental, Safety and Health Vulnerabilities Associated with
                      the Department’s Plutonium Storage (DOE/EH-0415, Nov. 1994).




                      Page 13                                       GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                               Chapter 1
                               Introduction




                               age. Furthermore, some of the safety systems for these buildings and
                               equipment had become unreliable. Today, DOE and its contractor, Kaiser-
                               Hill, face massive challenges in cleaning up the results of nearly 40 years’
                               worth of nuclear weapons production--removing the site’s materials and
                               waste, cleaning up and demolishing the site’s structures, and reducing the
                               contamination at the site to agreed upon levels.


The Site’s Nuclear Materials   To close the site, Kaiser-Hill must prepare and ship huge quantities of
and Wastes                     materials and wastes from the site, many of them radioactive. These
                               activities must be largely completed before the contractor can remove the
                               site’s structures and perform further cleanup activities. Each type of
                               material and waste presents its own challenges. The type of processing
                               and packaging required for each type of nuclear material and waste varies
                               in complexity. Descriptions of the primary types of nuclear materials and
                               wastes follow.




                               Page 14                        GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Chapter 1
Introduction




• Special nuclear materials. When the decision was made to close Rocky
  Flats, there were approximately 16.5 metric tons of special nuclear
  materials on the site—about 6.7 metric tons of enriched uranium and
  about 9.8 metric tons of plutonium metals and oxides and plutonium
  pits--to prepare and ship off-site. Uranium is a naturally occurring
  radioactive element that can be enriched to increase the percentage of a
  particular uranium isotope for use in nuclear weapons or as reactor fuel.
  Some of the site’s enriched uranium must be processed to remove
  plutonium contamination before it can be packaged and shipped to a
  site designated to receive the material. The contractor recently started
  shipping enriched uranium to DOE’s Oak Ridge Reservation and expects
  to complete its shipments of uranium to this facility by September 1999.
  The contractor reports that as of January 1999, it had shipped 40 percent
  of the enriched uranium off-site. Plutonium, a man-made radioactive
  element produced by irradiating uranium in nuclear reactors, is
  primarily in the form of metals, oxides (fine powders), and pits. The
  plutonium metals and oxides must be stabilized before they can be
  shipped. Stabilization includes brushing the metals to remove loose
  oxides and heating the oxides to a high temperature to remove moisture
  and other impurities, and reduce the potential for dispersal. Both the
  metals and the oxides must then be packaged in long-term storage
  containers, which are packed into containers certified by the regulators
  as safe for transporting special nuclear materials. 3 The contractor has
  not yet started shipping plutonium metals and oxides. A plutonium pit is
  the central core of a nuclear weapon, which can be compressed with
  high explosives to create a nuclear explosion.4 To be shipped from
  Rocky Flats, the plutonium pits must be packaged in certified
  transportation containers. As of January 1999, the contractor had
  shipped about 80 percent of the plutonium pits off-site. Both the
  plutonium and the enriched uranium must be shipped in specially
  designed trucks and trailers.
• Residues. Residues are plutonium-contaminated materials left over
  from nuclear weapons production, such as plutonium-contaminated
  ash; combustibles (including paper, rags, cloth, and gloves that can
  ignite easily); fluorides (compounds containing fluorine); salts (chloride


3For additional information on the Department’s management of its plutonium, see Department of
Energy: Plutonium Needs, Costs, and Management Programs (GAO/RCED-97-98, Apr. 17, 1997) and
Department of Energy: Problems and Progress in Managing Plutonium (GAO/RCED-98-68, Apr. 17,
1998).
4
  In a thermonuclear weapon, the pit is the primary device that is imploded to cause a fission reaction to
generate heat and energy to create a fusion reaction in the secondary part of the weapon.




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Introduction




  salts); sand, slag, and crucibles (from plutonium metal production); and
  scrub alloy (a plutonium and aluminum alloy from plutonium recovery
  operations). The plutonium content of these residues ranges from one-
  tenth of a percent to 80 percent. During production, Rocky Flats
  retained its residues to recycle the plutonium from them. When the site
  was shut down, it was left with about 106 metric tons of residues,
  contaminated with about 3.1 metric tons of plutonium. Each type of
  residue may require a different method of preparation for shipment;
  some residues must be stabilized, while others can be processed and
  packaged in their current form. The variety of residues, and the mixture
  of other materials with them, makes their management difficult.5 The
  contractor is making progress in processing and repackaging residues
  and recently shipped a small quantity of more highly contaminated and
  higher-risk residues to DOE’s Savannah River site for processing.
• Transuranic and transuranic mixed waste. Transuranic waste is
  radioactive waste contaminated with elements heavier than uranium,
  such as plutonium, in concentrations above 100 nanocuries per gram of
  waste.6 This waste includes materials ranging from clothing and gloves
  to pieces of equipment or other materials that are contaminated with
  radioactivity. Figure 1.2 shows examples of typical transuranic waste
  drums.




5For additional information on Rocky Flats’ residues, see Nuclear Materials: Removing Plutonium
Residues From Rocky Flats Will Be Difficult and Costly (GAO/RCED-92-219, Sept. 4, 1992), Nuclear
Materials: Plutonium Storage at DOE’s Rocky Flats Plant (GAO/RCED-95-49, Dec. 29, 1994), and
Department of Energy: Problems and Progress in Managing Plutonium (GAO/RCED-98-68, Apr. 17,
1998).
6
    A nanocurie is one-billionth of a curie, which is the amount of radioactivity in 1 gram of radium.




Page 16                                       GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
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Introduction




Figure 1.2: Cutaway View of Transuranic Waste Drums




Source: Kaiser-Hill.


Transuranic mixed waste contains hazardous as well as radioactive
materials. The contractor at Rocky Flats plans to dispose of approximately
14,500 cubic meters of transuranic and transuranic mixed waste generated
through former production activities or anticipated from the
decontamination, decommissioning, and demolition of the site’s buildings.
In addition, the site plans to dispose of most of its residues as transuranic
waste after they are processed and packaged in robust storage containers,
called "pipe and go" containers, that are then packed into 55-gallon drums
(see fig. 1.3). In total, site officials expect the site could generate up to
80,000 drums of transuranic and transuranic mixed waste, which must be
shipped in specially designed transportation casks. The contractor has not



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Introduction




started shipping its transuranic wastes because the facility designated to
receive these wastes, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New
Mexico, has not been available to receive these wastes.7 The contractor is
in the process of implementing additional storage for the site's transuranic
wastes to allow processing and packaging and cleanup activities to
continue while the site awaits the ability of WIPP to take Rocky Flats’
transuranic wastes.



Figure 1.3: Sample “Pipe and Go” Container for Residues to Be Disposed of at the
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant




Source: Kaiser-Hill.
• Low-level and low-level mixed waste. Low-level waste has less
  radioactive content than transuranic waste--100 or fewer nanocuries per
  gram of waste. Low-level mixed waste is low-level waste that contains
  hazardous materials. At Rocky Flats, these two types of waste consist


7
  WIPP is DOE’s deep geologic repository for transuranic and transuranic mixed waste, located in an
underground salt formation near Carlsbad, New Mexico. On Mar. 26, 1999, DOE made its first shipment
to the facility from Los Alamos. DOE anticipates beginning shipments from Rocky Flats over the next
several months.




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                             Chapter 1
                             Introduction




                                mainly of rags, paper, plastic, glassware, filters, soil, and building rubble
                                with low levels of contamination. Through cleanup and closure, the site
                                expects to ship over 180,000 cubic meters of low-level and low-level
                                mixed waste. Because this waste is less radioactive than transuranic
                                waste, it does not require the same degree of special handling. After
                                being packaged, it can be shipped by standard semitrailer trucks and
                                trailers. Site officials reported that, in fiscal year 1998, the contractor
                                shipped about 2,600 cubic meters of the site’s projected 143,000 cubic
                                meters of low-level waste to a disposal facility on DOE's Nevada Test
                                Site and about 6,500 cubic meters of the site’s projected 60,000 cubic
                                meters of low-level mixed waste to a commercial disposal facility in
                                Utah. According to DOE, the site has met its 1999 targets for shipments
                                of low-level and low-level mixed waste.


Cleanup and Closure of the   In addition to preparing and shipping the site’s nuclear materials and waste,
Site                         DOE and the contractor are cleaning up and demolishing the site’s
                             structures and cleaning up the site for closure.

                             • Decontamination and decommissioning of the site’s 691 buildings and
                               facilities. This work involves removing or reducing radioactive and/or
                               hazardous contamination to stabilize the environment and to prepare
                               the buildings and facilities for demolition. Decontamination and
                               decommissioning may include dismantling equipment or scrubbing
                               down portions of buildings. One hundred thirty-one of the site’s 691
                               buildings and facilities have some radiological contamination, and 6
                               have significant radiological contamination. Others may be
                               contaminated with hazardous materials. As of March 1999,
                               decontamination and decommissioning had been completed for 48
                               buildings, 3 of which had some radiological contamination. In addition,
                               the contractor reported that as of March 1999, 7 additional buildings
                               were being decontaminated and decommissioned--3 with some
                               radiological contamination and 4 with significant radiological
                               contamination. Buildings and facilities on the site range from small
                               tanks to massive processing buildings, including tents, trailers, towers,
                               slabs, pads, stacks, and pipelines.
                             • Demolition of nearly 3.5 million square feet of buildings and facilities.
                               After being decontaminated and decommissioned, the site’s 691
                               buildings and facilities will be demolished. As of January 1999, the
                               contractor had demolished 48 buildings and facilities comprising
                               109,266 square feet, or about 3 percent of the total square footage.
                               According to contractor officials, this is consistent with the site's



                             Page 19                          GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
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Introduction




  decontamination and decommissioning strategy, in which the majority
  of facilities are demolished later in the closure project.
• Remediation of 116 designated contaminated environmental sites.
  According to DOE, 116 of an estimated 367 environmental sites are
  expected to require soil remediation. The 367 environmental sites are
  locations on Rocky Flats where DOE and the regulators believed there
  could be radioactive or hazardous contamination. A DOE official
  reported that of 367 sites identified, 25 have been remediated, 116 may
  still require remediation, and the remainder may require no further
  action, because further examination revealed or may reveal that
  contamination levels are less than expected or nonexistent. The 116
  environmental sites that may still require remediation include areas
  where radioactive or hazardous materials were buried or leaked.
  Remediation could include removing contaminated soil or water or
  employing other treatment options. In addition, surface water leaving
  the site must be safe for all uses, including drinking. Some of these
  contaminated sites are beneath existing structures, and their cleanup
  will not begin until after the structures have been demolished. Some
  environmental sites may be very complex and expensive to clean up,
  while others may be less so. Other contaminated environmental sites
  may be identified in the future, especially because the amount and level
  of contamination in the industrial area--especially under the buildings--
  has not yet been determined. Contractor officials expect that many of
  the remaining environmental sites may not require further cleanup.
  Figure 1.4 shows workers in protective clothing conducting remediation
  activities at one of Rocky Flats’ contaminated environmental sites.




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Introduction




Figure 1.4: Remediation Activities at One of Rocky Flats’ Contaminated
Environmental Sites




Source: Kaiser-Hill.
• Disposal of up to 1 million items of personal property. Estimates of the
  site’s personal property (including computers, chairs, and desks) vary--
  from approximately 600,000 to 1 million items--because a complete
  inventory has not been done.8 DOE officials said that much of the
  personal property is old and may be more of a liability than an asset.
  Therefore, in May 1998, the site was authorized to use expedited
  disposal methods, which allow the site to bypass certain federal
  disposal requirements, including those for screenings to determine
  whether other federal agencies can use the property before disposing of
  it. However, before releasing property to the public, the contractor must
  follow specific procedures to ensure that items are not contaminated
  with radiological or hazardous substances. According to the contractor,
  from fiscal year 1996--when the site started disposing of its personal


8
 For more information on Rocky Flats’ property management, see Department of Energy: The Property
Management System at the Rocky Flats Plant Is Inadequate (GAO/RCED-94-77, Mar. 1, 1994),
Department of Energy: Property Management Has Improved at DOE’s Rocky Flats Site (GAO/RCED-96-
39, Dec. 28, 1995), and Department of Energy: Management of Excess Property (GAO/RCED-99-3, Nov.
4, 1998).




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                       Introduction




                              property in preparation for closure--through mid-February 1999, Rocky
                              Flats disposed of almost 100,000 items of personal property. About one-
                              fourth of these items were disposed of using the expedited procedures,
                              which were implemented near the end of fiscal year 1998.



Parties Involved in    The cleanup and closure of Rocky Flats is a complex undertaking,
                       involving not only DOE; the site’s primary contractor, Kaiser-Hill; and
Rocky Flats’ Cleanup   subcontractors but also regulatory and oversight agencies and others with
and Closure            an interest in the site’s cleanup and closure. The regulatory and oversight
                       bodies include the EPA, the state of Colorado, the Department of the
                       Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities
                       Safety Board. Other stakeholders include local governments; citizen,
                       community, business, and environmental groups; and individuals.


DOE                    DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, a headquarters organization,
                       is responsible for cleaning up the Department’s nuclear weapons complex
                       and closing down facilities, including Rocky Flats, that are no longer
                       needed for producing nuclear weapons. In June 1998, Environmental
                       Management released Accelerating Cleanup: Paths to Closure,9 which
                       projects the technical scope, cost, and schedule required to clean up and/or
                       close these facilities. At the Rocky Flats Field Office, approximately 230
                       DOE employees manage and oversee the site’s cleanup. Other DOE
                       headquarters organizations also play a role in the site’s cleanup and
                       closure, including the Office of Defense Programs, the Office of Fissile
                       Materials Disposition, and the Office of Worker and Community Transition.
                       In addition, other DOE sites play a significant role in Rocky Flats’ cleanup
                       and closure, especially those that are scheduled to receive materials or
                       wastes from Rocky Flats.


Contractor and         In 1995, through a competitive procurement process, Kaiser-Hill Company,
Subcontractors         L.L.C. (Kaiser-Hill),10 was awarded the contract to manage Rocky Flats
                       through June 2000. Kaiser-Hill proposed managing the site’s work through
                       four principal subcontractors, which now include Rocky Mountain
                       Remediation Services, L.L.C.; Safe Sites of Colorado, L.L.C.; Rocky Flats


                       9Accelerating    Cleanup: Paths to Closure (DOE/EM-0362, June 1998).
                       10
                            A company formed through a joint venture by IFC Kaiser International, Inc. and CH2M Hill.




                       Page 22                                     GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                           Chapter 1
                           Introduction




                           Closure Site Services, L.L.C.;11 and Wackenhut Services, L.L.C. The first
                           two companies perform most cleanup activities, the third handles support
                           services, and the last provides security. Kaiser-Hill and the four principal
                           subcontractors enter into contracts with other subcontractors to perform
                           various site operations and cleanup activities.


Regulatory and Oversight   EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are
Agencies                   the primary regulators for Rocky Flats. EPA derives its regulatory
                           authority primarily from the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
                           Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, as amended (CERCLA)12 and the
                           Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, as amended (RCRA).13
                           Colorado exercises regulatory authority over hazardous wastes under
                           RCRA and the Colorado Hazardous Waste Act14 and other legislative and
                           regulatory requirements. Both regulatory agencies have field staff at Rocky
                           Flats to oversee cleanup and closure activities. These federal and state
                           laws cover hazardous wastes, but not special nuclear materials.15

                           Under the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement, DOE, EPA, and Colorado
                           annually establish or update regulatory milestones for the site for the next
                           2 fiscal years. If these milestones are not met, the regulators can fine DOE
                           according to a penalty schedule included in the agreement.16 In general,
                           EPA has primary authority over the site’s buffer zone, while Colorado has
                           primary authority over the site’s industrial area.

                           The Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service has had a
                           regulatory presence at Rocky Flats for many years. The Fish and Wildlife
                           Service derives its regulatory authority from the Endangered Species Act. 17


                           11
                             Rocky Flats Closure Site Services, L.L.C., replaced DynCorp of Colorado as a top-level subcontractor
                           in 1998. DynCorp continues to provide some services at Rocky Flats as a lower-tier subcontractor.
                           12
                                42 U.S.C. section 9601 et seq.
                           1342   U.S.C. section 6901 et seq.
                           14
                                Colorado Revised Statutes 25-15-301 et seq.
                           15
                             These federal and state laws do not cover special nuclear materials or source or by-product materials
                           as defined in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 42 U.S.C. 2014. However, the Rocky Flats Cleanup
                           Agreement defines plutonium as a hazardous material under CERCLA.
                           16According  to DOE, to date, the site has not missed a regulatory milestone without an excusable delay
                           (such as delays in WIPP’s opening).
                           17
                                16 U.S.C. section 1531 et seq.




                           Page 23                                      GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                     Chapter 1
                     Introduction




                     The Endangered Species Act prohibits DOE from taking any actions that
                     would jeopardize the existence of species listed as threatened or
                     endangered. The Fish and Wildlife Service, through a consultative process,
                     may require mitigation efforts to ensure the protection and recovery of
                     listed species.

                     The Congress created the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in 1988
                     to oversee DOE’s defense nuclear facilities and to ensure the protection of
                     public health and safety. The Board is charged with identifying safety
                     problems at DOE’s nuclear facilities and recommending corrective actions
                     to the Secretary of Energy. If the Secretary accepts a recommendation,
                     DOE develops an implementation plan. The Board has issued several
                     recommendations pertaining to Rocky Flats, including recommendations
                     about the safety of the site’s plutonium and residues, and the site is
                     implementing corrective actions to address these recommendations.
                     Although the Board does not have regulatory authority over DOE, a
                     memorandum of understanding attached to the Rocky Flats Cleanup
                     Agreement recognizes the Board as the primary oversight entity for Rocky
                     Flats’ special nuclear materials and activities relating to them.


Other Stakeholders   The site’s other stakeholders include local governments; community,
                     business, and citizen groups; and individuals. The Rocky Flats Cleanup
                     Agreement requires that these stakeholders be consulted during the
                     development of cleanup plans. The stakeholders may also provide input to
                     and exert influence on the regulatory and oversight agencies, as well as
                     their local, state, and federal elected representatives. The stakeholders'
                     level of involvement varies. Some of the stakeholders and their roles are
                     listed below.

                     •  Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board. The Citizens Advisory Board was
                       formed in 1993 to provide informed, community-based
                       recommendations to EPA, the state, and DOE on the cleanup of Rocky
                       Flats. The board consists of up to 30 volunteers, including local citizens;
                       businesspersons; Rocky Flats employees; and representatives of local
                       governments, academia, and public interest and environmental
                       organizations.
                     • Local communities. Because they are located near Rocky Flats and
                       could be affected by its cleanup and closure activities, cities such as
                       Arvada, Broomfield, and Westminster provide input to DOE and the
                       contractor on cleanup and closure issues. Partly because the
                       communities surrounding Rocky Flats do not depend for their economic



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                         Chapter 1
                         Introduction




                           vitality on jobs related directly or indirectly to the site, the cities
                           generally agree on the need to close it. However, they do not agree on
                           how the site should be used in the future. For example, Arvada wants to
                           see part of the site used as an industrial area, while Broomfield and
                           Westminster would like to have all of it converted to open space, with
                           little or no development.
                         • County governments. Rocky Flats is located almost entirely within
                           Jefferson County, along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Although
                           the county government has only recently become involved in the site’s
                           cleanup and closure, DOE officials expect it to become a major
                           stakeholder as the cleanup progresses and the site nears closure. About
                           35 acres of the site lie within Boulder County, which also borders the
                           site on the north. Boulder County has also begun to take an interest in
                           the site's cleanup and closure.
                         • Rocky Flats Local Impacts Initiative. Formed in 1991 and funded by
                           DOE, this organization represents and serves as a focal point for the
                           views and concerns of about 60 organizations, including businesses and
                           environmental, academic, and citizen groups. It also advises DOE on
                           the impact of workforce restructuring on local communities and
                           manages several DOE-funded programs to help mitigate the impact of
                           downsizing on these communities. Outside this organization, according
                           to site officials, business groups such as the Denver and Northwest
                           Metro Chambers of Commerce, the Colorado Forum, and various other
                           groups also provide input to the site on issues concerning the cleanup
                           and closure of Rocky Flats. The Rocky Flats Local Impacts Initiative
                           will be disbanded in early 1999, and in April 1999, a new organization,
                           the Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments, will begin operations.
                           The coalition's mission will be to "provide an effective mechanism for
                           local governments in the vicinity of Rocky Flats and their citizens to
                           work together on issues of mutual concern relating to the safe, prompt
                           and effective cleanup and closure of Rocky Flats, its future use and long
                           term protection. . . ."
                         • Environmental/activist groups. These types of groups have been
                           involved in issues at Rocky Flats for many years. The groups' activities
                           have ranged from conducting antinuclear protests during the site’s
                           production years to taking stands on current cleanup and closure issues.



Objectives, Scope, and   Concerned about the Department’s ability to meet its current goal to close
                         Rocky Flats by the end of 2006, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on
Methodology              Armed Services asked us to review (1) DOE’s plans for accelerating the
                         site’s closure and challenges that could impede closure; (2) the condition of



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Introduction




the site at closure and the activities that will remain after closure; and (3)
the costs of closing the site and the savings expected from accelerating its
closure.

We performed our work at DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C.; DOE’s
Inspector General Denver Audit Group in Golden, Colorado; and the Rocky
Flats Field Office, located on the Rocky Flats site, near Golden, Colorado.
We also performed work at the primary contractor’s and some of the
subcontractors' locations on the site. We contacted other DOE sites and
headquarters organizations whose activities either affect or are affected by
Rocky Flats’ closure. In addition, we performed work at EPA’s Region VIII
in Denver, Colorado, and at two Colorado offices—the Office of Policy and
Initiatives, within the Office of the Governor, and the Department of Public
Health and Environment, both in Denver. We also obtained information
from stakeholders in communities surrounding the site.

To examine DOE’s plans for accelerating the site’s closure and challenges
that could impede closure, we reviewed many complexwide and site-
specific planning documents, including Accelerating Cleanup: Path to
Closure: Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site and Closure 2006--
Rocky Flats Closure Project: Management Plan, both dated June 1998, as
well as plans and schedules from the Rocky Flats Field Office and Kaiser-
Hill. We also obtained and analyzed other documents. In addition, we
interviewed DOE officials from the Office of Environmental Management,
the Rocky Flats Field Office, and other DOE sites with activities related to
Rocky Flats’ closure. We also interviewed representatives of Kaiser-Hill
and some of its subcontractors, as well as officials from EPA, Colorado’s
Office of the Governor and the Department of Public Health and
Environment, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s Rocky
Flats office. We obtained documents from and interviewed representatives
of numerous stakeholder groups, including the Rocky Flats Citizens
Advisory Board; the Rocky Flats Local Impacts Initiative; the Rocky
Mountain Peace and Justice Center; and local city governments, including
those of Broomfield and Westminster, Colorado.

To determine the condition of the site at closure and the activities that will
remain after closure, we obtained and analyzed the Rocky Flats Cleanup
Agreement and interviewed officials from the three organizations that
developed it: DOE (headquarters and Rocky Flats Field Office), EPA, and
Colorado (the Office of the Governor and the Department of Public Health
and Environment). In addition, we obtained and analyzed documents and
interviewed officials from DOE’s Office of Inspector General, Kaiser-Hill,



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Introduction




some of the subcontractors, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety
Board. We also toured various facilities and cleanup projects at the site.
Finally, we obtained documents and interviewed representatives from
several local stakeholder groups, including the Rocky Flats Citizens
Advisory Board, the Rocky Flats Local Impacts Initiative, the Rocky
Mountain Peace and Justice Center, and local city governments.

To determine the costs of closing the site and the savings expected from
accelerating closure, we obtained and analyzed documents and
interviewed officials from DOE’s Office of Environmental Management and
Rocky Flats Field Office and from Kaiser-Hill. Specifically, we reviewed
cost and savings estimates in closure planning documents, including
Closure 2006--Rocky Flats Closure Project: Management Plan; cost
estimates prepared by Kaiser-Hill and the Rocky Flats Field Office,
including project baseline descriptions and project baseline summaries;
and other reports by DOE and the contractor on the site’s cost and savings
estimates. We also interviewed regulatory officials and representatives of
local stakeholder groups to obtain their views on the Department’s cost and
savings estimates for Rocky Flats.

We provided DOE with a copy of a draft of this report for its review and
comment. DOE’s comments are discussed and evaluated at the ends of
chapters 2 and 3. The full text of DOE’s comments appears in appendix I.
We conducted our review from May 1998 through March 1999 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




Page 27                        GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Chapter 2

Challenges to Accelerating the Site’s Closure                                                                           Chapte2
                                                                                                                              r




                        DOE and the primary contractor, Kaiser-Hill, are attempting to accelerate
                        the closure of Rocky Flats to meet the Department’s new target date of
                        2006. The contractor has not yet developed a detailed plan and schedule
                        for closure by the end of that year and has encountered some delays in
                        implementing the earlier plan for closing the site in 2010. 1 The contractor
                        is developing a plan for closing the site by the end of 2006 and believes that
                        it can take advantage of “learning curves and efficiencies” gained through
                        early efforts to expedite required cleanup and closure activities. However,
                        although DOE and the contractor have made progress in some areas, they
                        face challenges that could hinder efforts to accelerate the site's closure. In
                        addition, extensive requirements for coordinating the work at Rocky Flats
                        with work at other DOE sites and challenges outside of DOE’s control
                        could further hinder efforts to close Rocky Flats by the end of 2006.



Detailed Plan Assumes   In fiscal year 1994, when the Department developed plans to close Rocky
                        Flats, DOE estimated that the site could be closed as late as 2070. In 1995,
That the Site Will Be   DOE selected Kaiser-Hill to manage and operate Rocky Flats. At that time,
Closed in 2010          Kaiser-Hill proposed closing the site in 2015. Then, in 1996, DOE’s Office of
                        Environmental Management announced efforts to accelerate the cleanup of
                        contaminated sites throughout DOE’s nuclear complex. In 1997, Kaiser-Hill
                        proposed closing the site in 2010 and developed a detailed plan and
                        schedule to support its proposal. This plan remains in effect today, even
                        though DOE has advanced the date for closure to the end of 2006. To meet
                        the 2006 target, the contractor must complete the tasks set forth in the 2010
                        plan in about 30 percent less time. Kaiser-Hill has started developing a
                        detailed plan to close the site by the end of 2006. According to contractor
                        officials, this plan will be submitted to DOE by the end of May 1999. In the
                        meantime, both contractor and DOE officials are attempting to get ahead of
                        the 2010 plan by accelerating activities they view as critical to closing the
                        site by the end of 2006.

                        While making progress in some areas, the contractor has incurred delays in
                        some activities considered important to closing the site. These delays
                        could affect the schedule for accomplishing other cleanup activities. For
                        example, the contractor fell behind the 2010 schedule in preparing three
                        types of plutonium-contaminated residues for removal from the site, as
                        well as in shipping plutonium pits to DOE’s Pantex Plant, the site
                        designated to receive and store most of DOE’s nuclear weapons

                        1
                            The 2010 plan is based on closing the site by the end of fiscal year 2010.




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Challenges to Accelerating the Site’s Closure




components. Such delays can have a cumulative impact because many of
the site’s cleanup and closure activities must be completed in sequence.
For example, delays in removing residues and special nuclear materials
from the buildings where they are now stored can delay efforts to
decontaminate, decommission, and demolish these buildings.

Site officials maintain that the contractor can make up for the delays
experienced thus far and accelerate activities to close the site by the end of
2006. According to many site officials, the contractor is climbing a learning
curve in many of the activities, and once it has gained experience, it will be
able to accelerate activities and achieve efficiencies. However, the officials
have not yet clearly indicated how learning curves and efficiencies will
accelerate later activities in time to meet the 2006 target. Furthermore,
subsequent cleanup tasks may present different problems.

Despite DOE's and Kaiser-Hill's position that they can close the site by the
end of 2006, several DOE and contractor personnel told us that although
they think some acceleration of the 2010 plan is possible, they are not sure
that closure by the end of 2006 is feasible. Some of these personnel believe
that a date between 2006 and 2010 may be more realistic, while others
characterize even the 2010 date as ambitious. Many of the site’s regulators
and stakeholders said they support efforts to accelerate Rocky Flats’
closure but are more concerned that it be done right than that it be done by
the end of 2006. The contractor's recent risk analysis of the 2010 closure
plan identified uncertainties and technical problems that the contractor
must overcome to close the site. The uncertainties and problems include
such key areas as preparing the site's nuclear materials and wastes for
shipment, establishing sites to take Rocky Flats' materials, and
decontaminating and decommissioning the site's buildings and facilities.
The risk analysis determined that unless the contractor resolves these
existing uncertainties and technical problems, it has a 1-percent chance of
closing the site by the end of fiscal year 2010.2 Kaiser-Hill management
stated that this risk analysis is a tool to identify and focus management’s
attention and planning efforts on cost and schedule uncertainties and
problems that could affect the site's closure. Whether and when these
uncertainties and technical problems are resolved will also affect the
prospects for closing the site by the end of 2006. Both DOE and Kaiser-Hill


2
  According to Kaiser-Hill, a schedule risk analysis process was initiated in 1998 to periodically identify
and prioritize uncertainties that must be overcome to close the site by 2006. An initial analysis
identified uncertainties associated with several technically complicated activities scheduled to occur in
the later stages of closure; consequently, a 1-percent chance of overall success resulted.




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                             Chapter 2
                             Challenges to Accelerating the Site’s Closure




                             officials emphasized that the site has been able to resolve or overcome
                             uncertainties and problems in the past.



Numerous Challenges          DOE and the contractor have identified four primary activities that will
                             need to be accelerated in order to close the site by the end of 2006: (1)
Could Hinder Efforts to      processing and removing plutonium-contaminated residues; (2) shipping
Accelerate Closure           special nuclear materials off-site; (3) decontaminating and
                             decommissioning buildings; and (4) constructing closure caps--man-made
                             protective barriers between contamination that remains on the site and the
                             public or the environment. According to DOE and contractor officials, the
                             contractor may be able to accelerate the removal of special nuclear
                             materials and residues by 2 years, allowing for closure in 2008, largely by
                             identifying and implementing more expeditious ways of processing and
                             shipping the residues and special nuclear materials. However, the officials
                             are less confident that they can gain 2 more years by compressing the
                             schedule for decontaminating and decommissioning buildings and
                             constructing closure caps. These activities are scheduled for later years
                             and largely require the completion of other activities first. We found
                             challenges in each of the four areas that could hinder efforts to close the
                             site by the end of 2006.


Challenges in the Residues   Recently, as well as historically, Rocky Flats has faced problems and delays
Program                      in managing its plutonium-contaminated residues. According to DOE
                             officials, to close the site by the end of 2006, the contractor needs, by 2003,
                             to treat, package, and ship approximately 106 metric tons of residues to
                             sites designated to receive them. However, DOE, the Defense Nuclear
                             Facilities Safety Board, and we have reported that Rocky Flats has had
                             problems managing its residues in the past.3 To accelerate the removal of
                             residues from the site, Rocky Flats is no longer planning to extract the
                             plutonium from them. The site is now planning to send most of the
                             residues that are high in plutonium content or categorized as high risk to
                             DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina for processing. It is also
                             planning to prepare the bulk of the residues--sometimes by blending them
                             with less contaminated or clean material to lower the percentage of

                             3
                              See Plutonium Working Group Report on Environmental, Safety and Health Vulnerabilities Associated
                             with the Department’s Plutonium Storage (DOE/EH-0415, Nov. 1994), Recommendation 94-1, Improved
                             Schedule for Remediation in the Defense Nuclear Facilities Complex, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety
                             Board (59 FR 28848, May 1994), and Department of Energy: Problems and Progress in Managing
                             Plutonium (GAO/RCED-98-68, Apr. 17, 1998).




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plutonium and sometimes by just repackaging the materials--for disposal as
transuranic wastes at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New
Mexico. A DOE official estimates that this change will shave at least 1 year
from the residues program and save at least $50 million. Figure 2.1 shows a
Rocky Flats worker handling plutonium residues in a glovebox.4



Figure 2.1: A Rocky Flats Worker Handling Plutonium Residues in a Glovebox




Source: Kaiser-Hill.


However, even under this revised approach to managing the site's residues,
the contractor has recently experienced additional delays in processing
and repackaging some of the site’s residues. According to a DOE official
overseeing the processing, repackaging, and removal of residues, some
repackaging efforts have fallen behind schedule and some processes have
been temporarily shut down. According to Kaiser-Hill officials, they are


4
  A glovebox is a sealed glass, metal, or plastic chamber designed to protect a worker handling
radioactive or hazardous materials from exposure to contamination. The worker, who remains outside
the box, uses gloves attached to the wall of the chamber to handle the contaminated materials.




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                             adding funding and other resources—primarily additional workers and
                             equipment—to make up for these problems, catch up to the 2010 schedule,
                             and accelerate future processing and repackaging efforts. According to
                             contractor officials, despite some of the earlier delays, progress is being
                             made in processing and repackaging residues.5 The contractor told us that
                             it has already made up for some of the delays and is working to overcome
                             the others. According to DOE, as of April 1999, the site had caught up to
                             the 2010 processing schedules for four of the five major residue types. In
                             addition to the contractor’s efforts, DOE redirected an additional $2 million
                             to $3 million in fiscal year 1999 funding to residue repackaging activities,
                             according to site officials. The recent delays have nevertheless prompted
                             regulatory and DOE officials to question whether the contractor will meet
                             its fiscal year 1999 and 2000 goals for processing and repackaging the site's
                             residues.

                             In addition, the site has had problems obtaining the certification, or
                             approval, it will need from DOE's Carlsbad Area Office to ship its
                             processed and packaged residues to WIPP for disposal. In August and
                             September 1998, auditors from the Carlsbad Area Office found adverse
                             conditions, such as inadequate record-keeping and verification procedures,
                             that required correction before the residues could be certified for eventual
                             disposal at WIPP. A DOE site official told us that the audit results indicated
                             a serious cultural problem--a failure by subcontractor engineers and
                             managers to understand DOE’s requirements and make a commitment to
                             meeting them. The residues will not require further processing, and after
                             the site takes the required corrective actions, the auditors will return to
                             certify the residues. Their return visit was scheduled for March 1999.
                             According to Kaiser-Hill officials, the contractor has completed correcting
                             the findings from the 1998 audit. An audit of the site's transuranic waste
                             characterization and certification processes in March 1999 resulted in no
                             major audit issues.


Challenges to Accelerating   Rocky Flats has shipped about 80 percent of its plutonium pits off-site, and
the Shipment of Special      the remainder are expected to be shipped to the Pantex Plant near
Nuclear Materials Off-Site


                             5
                               In Mar. 1999, Kaiser-Hill officials said that the contractor is approaching the production rates needed to
                             finish reprocessing all of the residues by fiscal year 2002, a date the officials view as critical to closing
                             the site by 2006.




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Amarillo, Texas, or to the national laboratories by September 1999.6
However, most of the site’s plutonium metals and oxides must still be
stabilized, packaged in long-term storage containers,7 and then shipped to
DOE's Savannah River Site for storage until they can be processed for
ultimate disposal at DOE’s high-level waste repository. The Savannah River
Site is modifying an existing structure to accommodate the accelerated
shipment of Rocky Flats’ plutonium metals and oxides.

The site is now planning to accelerate the stabilization, packaging, and
shipment of its plutonium metals and oxides by 2 years. The 2010 closure
schedule called for this plutonium to be stabilized, packaged, and shipped
to Savannah River by the end of fiscal year 2004. The site now expects to
complete these tasks by May 30, 2002. However, as we reported in April
1998, the site has encountered problems--including difficulties in procuring
an automated plutonium stabilization and packaging system--that have
delayed its progress and increased its costs. 8 Recently, because of
reliability and technical difficulties, the site decided to use manually
operated furnaces to stabilize the plutonium oxides instead of the
stabilization portion of the automated system. Site officials estimate that
these furnaces should be ready to stabilize the plutonium oxides in April
2000. The packaging portion of the automated system, turned over--a year
late--to the contractor in September 1998, must be operational by
December 1999 to meet the accelerated shipping schedule. However, as of
February 1999, the complex automated plutonium packaging system was
still in a warehouse in a community near the site. The automated
packaging system proved very sensitive and performed below expectations
during off-site testing and required unanticipated modifications. The
contractor must still move the system to the site, install it in a building
within the site’s protected area, test it, and bring it up to operational
capability--tasks that may require months' worth of adjustments to the
equipment, given its complexity and sensitivity. While the contractor has
developed and is implementing a schedule to install the equipment to
enable the stabilization and accelerated shipment of the plutonium metals


6
  DOE anticipates that the pits that can be shipped to the Pantex Plant will be shipped by the end of May
1999.
7Some plutonium metals are classified because of their shape or constituents and will require additional
processing at another site to make them unclassified before they can be stored. These metals will be
shipped to the site designated to receive them, where they will be processed and then packaged into
long-term storage containers.
8
 Department of Energy: Problems and Progress in Managing Plutonium (GAO/RCED-98-68, Apr. 17,
1998).




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                            and oxides, some site officials note the challenges ahead and question the
                            contractor’s ability to meet the required time frames.


Challenges in               Of the 691 buildings or facilities at Rocky Flats, as of March 1999, 48 had
Decontaminating and         been decontaminated, decommissioned, and demolished. Three of these
                            buildings had some radiological contamination. In addition, the contractor
Decommissioning Buildings
                            reported that as of March 1999, seven additional buildings were being
                            decontaminated and decommissioned--three with some radiological
                            contamination and four with significant radiological contamination.
                            According to the 2010 closure plan, the majority of the remaining buildings,
                            including some of the most difficult radiologically contaminated buildings,
                            are now scheduled for decontamination and decommissioning from 2005
                            through 2007, and over two-thirds of the demolition is scheduled from 2006
                            through 2009. Contractor officials have not yet determined how the
                            schedule for decontamination, decommissioning, and demolition can be
                            compressed enough to close the site by the end of 2006. The contractor is
                            developing a detailed decontamination and decommissioning schedule as
                            part of its detailed plan for closing the site by the end of 2006. According to
                            the contractor, its senior management recognizes that the site faces a
                            daunting task in achieving the accelerated decontamination and
                            decommissioning of the site's nuclear facilities; nevertheless, the managers
                            remain convinced that the earlier closure can be accomplished. However,
                            some DOE and contractor officials have questioned both the feasibility of
                            completing the work under the compressed schedule and the availability of
                            resources--especially of qualified workers--to carry out the work on time.

                            The contractor has successfully conducted some of the more complex
                            early decontamination and decommissioning work nearly on schedule, but
                            at double the anticipated cost. In decontaminating and decommissioning
                            two of the first major buildings at the site—a health science building and a
                            plutonium processing building--the contractor found that the work on these
                            radiologically contaminated buildings took longer and cost more than
                            planned. The tasks proved to be more complex and generated more waste
                            than expected, and unanticipated radiological or hazardous contamination
                            was found. The contractor offset delays of several months through the use
                            of overtime work and the application of lessons learned, especially in
                            reducing the time for packaging waste materials. As a result, the
                            contractor finished decontaminating and decommissioning one building
                            only about a month behind schedule and expects to do the same for the
                            second building. However, overcoming these problems and delays had a
                            significant cost. The contractor more than doubled the cost estimate for



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decontaminating and decommissioning the plutonium processing building,
from $21.1 million in November 1997 to $55.4 million in October 1998.9

Contractor officials said they expect to learn from their early efforts and
develop efficiencies that will enable them to make up for lost time, reduce
costs, and accelerate the decontamination and decommissioning of the
remaining buildings. For example, according to Kaiser-Hill officials, the
subcontractor was able to remove gloveboxes five times faster from the
plutonium processing building by applying lessons learned--using better
tools and learning to cut the gloveboxes to better fit into the disposal
containers--and by funding overtime work. According to contractor
officials, as of March 1999, over 120 gloveboxes had been removed from
this building. However, earlier efforts may not always be applicable
because each building--especially each radiologically contaminated
building--may present unique problems. Because different types of
activities took place in the buildings where nuclear weapons were
produced, the buildings contain widely different levels and types of
contamination, requiring different cleanup activities.

Adding to the challenges involved in decontaminating, decommissioning,
and demolishing the site’s buildings and facilities, the contractor increased
its estimates of the wastes expected from these efforts. These wastes will
ultimately have to be packaged and removed from the site. Primarily on
the basis of its experience with decontaminating and decommissioning the
first major buildings and some subsequent changes in approach, in July
1998, the contractor increased its estimates of transuranic waste from
about 9,500 cubic meters to over 14,500 cubic meters and of low-level
waste from about 66,000 cubic meters to nearly 143,000 cubic meters. It
also decreased its estimate of low-level mixed waste by over 20,000 cubic
meters. Contractor officials stated that they believe they will be able to
ship these wastes off-site at the rate they are generated by
decontamination, decommissioning, and demolition activities.

Contractor and DOE officials told us that decontamination and
decommissioning activities tend to be labor intensive, especially for former
nuclear weapons production buildings in the site’s protected area.10

9These cost estimates are for decontaminating, decommissioning, and demolishing the building cluster,
which consists of the primary plutonium processing building and its support buildings and facilities.
10
  The protected area is a safeguarded zone within the site’s industrial area where activities that involve
special nuclear materials are conducted. Access requires special authorization, and a protective force
of guards and physical barriers provide security for the nuclear materials.




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                             Workers, who require special training and security clearances, must go
                             through time-consuming procedures to dress in required protective gear
                             and enter contaminated buildings. Site officials said they plan to create
                             special decontamination and decommissioning teams to work
                             simultaneously on different radioactively contaminated buildings. They
                             noted that using teams should create efficiencies, allowing them to
                             compress the schedule for decontamination and decommissioning.
                             According to contractor officials, the majority of the site's buildings are not
                             contaminated and their decontamination and decommissioning will not
                             require special training, security clearances, or protective equipment.


Challenges With the Use of   The contractor is planning to use closure caps to isolate residual
Closure Caps                 contaminants in four areas, but the site’s regulators have agreed to the use
                             of these caps for only two of the areas. Closure caps are man-made
                             barriers designed to isolate contaminants from the surrounding
                             environment or the public. Descending layers are made of increasingly
                             finer materials to restrict the infiltration of water to contamination below
                             (see fig. 2.2).



                             Figure 2.2: Diagram of the Layers of a Closure Cap

                                                                           Top Soil and Vegetation

                                                                            Gravelly Sand - Coarser Material

                               24”
                                                                           Sandy Gravel - Finer Material

                                                                           Membrane- Man-Made Material


                               24”                                         Clay Layer




                               12”                                         Gravel or Rock - Structural Backfill

                             Source: GAO's presentation of data provided by Kaiser-Hill and DOE.




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                     As allowed under the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement, the contractor plans
                     to construct closure caps over the site’s landfills and solar evaporation
                     ponds11 (about 33 acres of caps). However, the contractor also plans to
                     construct closure caps over two portions of the industrial area (an
                     additional 31 acres) after the contaminated buildings have been
                     demolished. DOE and the contractor are just starting to discuss the use of
                     these additional caps with the regulators and stakeholders, and no
                     agreements have been reached. Contractor officials told us they need a
                     final decision on the use of closure caps for the two portions of the
                     industrial area by 2004 if they are to finish constructing the caps by the end
                     of 2006. If the contractor is not allowed to use caps in these areas, site
                     officials said, the costs of closure could be higher and the site's closure
                     could be delayed.

                     Many of the site’s stakeholders oppose the use of additional closure caps
                     because they are concerned that the caps will not provide an adequate
                     barrier for the industrial area for as long as necessary. Given current
                     technology, they expect the caps to fail long before the radiological
                     contamination ceases to pose a threat to human health and the
                     environment--many thousands of years in the future. A DOE official said
                     that closure caps have failed in the past, primarily because the construction
                     was not adequate for the conditions or the caps were not properly
                     maintained.



Coordination of      Closing Rocky Flats depends on coordinating activities across the DOE
                     complex, as well as outside the complex. Virtually everything at the site
Closure Activities   must go somewhere else for storage or disposal.12 Currently, DOE does not
Could Affect         have sites to receive all of the materials and wastes that must be removed
                     from Rocky Flats. Furthermore, other DOE facilities will need sites to
Acceleration         receive their materials and wastes, and Rocky Flats will be competing with
                     these other facilities for storage and processing services, as well as for
                     vehicles and containers to transport materials and wastes. The
                     Department has made some efforts to coordinate activities across the DOE
                     complex to support Rocky Flats’ accelerated closure, including



                     11According to documentation from   the site, these ponds were used to store and evaporate radiological
                     and hazardous wastes.
                     12
                      Exceptions include some uncontaminated or slightly contaminated materials that may be disposed of
                     on-site.




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                             establishing a headquarters office, a senior management team, and a
                             management plan.


Rocky Flats Does Not Have    Rocky Flats has shipped some of its nuclear materials and wastes to other
Facilities to Take Some of   DOE sites and commercial facilities. It has also designated other sites to
                             receive additional types of materials, but these sites have not yet been able
Its Materials and Wastes
                             to receive the materials from Rocky Flats. However, no sites are available
                             to take several “orphan” materials and wastes, including some low-level
                             mixed wastes and uranium contaminated with plutonium or hazardous
                             materials. No sites are available to take these materials because existing
                             facilities are not licensed to accept them.

                             Rocky Flats has already shipped plutonium pits to the Pantex Plant near
                             Amarillo, Texas; low-level waste to a disposal site on the Nevada Test Site;
                             and enriched uranium to the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee. In
                             addition, some materials have been sent to commercial facilities. For
                             example, some low-level mixed waste has gone to the Envirocare disposal
                             facility in Utah, and some sanitary waste (nonradioactive and
                             nonhazardous waste) has gone to a landfill near Erie, Colorado.

                             Other types of materials and wastes have been designated to go to other
                             DOE sites. As noted, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina is
                             designated to receive the site’s plutonium metals and oxides, and the WIPP
                             facility near Carlsbad, New Mexico, is designated to receive transuranic
                             and transuranic mixed waste. (Fig. 2.3 shows the location of the sites that
                             have accepted or expect to receive Rocky Flats’ nuclear materials and
                             wastes.)




                             Page 38                               GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
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Figure 2.3: Sites That Have Accepted and Expect to Receive Rocky Flats’ Nuclear Materials and Wastes
                                                                Rocky Flats
Envirocare                                                      Enviornmental Technology Site
Low-Level Waste/
Some Low-Level
Mixed Waste Disposal




                                                                                                                                       Oak Ridge
                                                                                                                                       Reservation
   Nevada
                                                                                                                                       Highly Enriched
   Test Site
                                                                                                                                       Uranium Storage
   Low-Level                                                                                          Som
   Waste Disposal                                                                                        e Re
                                                                                                                    si d u
                                                                                                                             es

                                                                              P lu
                                                                                     t o ni
                                                                                              um M
                                                                                                     e t als a
                                                                                                                 n d O xid e s    Savannah
                                                                                                                                  River Site
                                                                                                                                  Residue Processing
                                                                                                                                  and Plutonium Storage


                                  Waste Isolation
                                  Pilot Plant
                                  Transuranic/Transuranic                              Pantex Plant
                                  Mixed Waste Disposal                                 Plutonium
                                                                                       Pit Storage



                                                            Current receiver sites
                                                            Future receiver sites


                                            Key: Solid lines indicate that shipments have occurred; broken lines indicate that no such shipments
                                            have taken place.
                                            Note: The map shows the sites that are receiving or are designated to receive the majority of these
                                            types of materials. Small amounts of the materials may be sent to other sites.
                                            Source: GAO's presentation of data provided by DOE.




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Rocky Flats currently has nowhere to send low-level mixed waste with
higher plutonium contamination (10 to 100 nanocuries per gram of
material). Rocky Flats expects to generate about 10,000 cubic meters of
this kind of waste, but no commercial or DOE facility has the RCRA
permits required to accept it.13

According to site officials, the most promising option for disposing of the
site’s orphan low-level mixed waste is to enter into a contract with a waste
management company that is interested in operating a low-level mixed
waste disposal facility in eastern Colorado. The company is currently
operating a hazardous waste disposal facility at this location but does not
have the authority to accept low-level mixed waste. However, according to
DOE officials, the Department is required under a DOE order to use DOE
facilities for radioactive waste disposal and can use commercial facilities
only on an exception basis.14 DOE recently analyzed this waste disposal
policy to determine if it needed to be changed. DOE headquarters put the
proposal for the Colorado waste disposal facility on hold during this study.
On March 11, 1999, the Department announced that the policy analysis had
concluded that DOE should continue its preference for using DOE disposal
facilities for DOE wastes and should use commercial facilities under an
exemption process when disposal at DOE facilities is not practical. DOE
has delegated the exemption authority to the managers of its field offices--
in consultation with its Office of Environment, Safety and Health--to
facilitate the process when the use of commercial facilities is necessary
and in DOE's best interest.

According to site officials, if the Colorado disposal facility is not
established, Rocky Flats may have to store its orphan low-level mixed
waste on-site, greatly diminishing the likelihood of closing the site by the
end of 2006. Alternatively, site officials say, the site could send this orphan
waste to existing disposal facilities at another DOE site (if the site could
obtain a state permit to dispose of hazardous waste) or to a commercial
facility (if the facility could obtain a license to dispose of low-level
radioactive waste). However, according to the site officials, these
alternatives appear unlikely.



13Low-level mixed waste includes hazardous wastes and therefore is subject to regulation under RCRA.
Authorized state hazardous waste programs issue permits for hazardous waste treatment, storage, and
disposal within their borders.
14
     Department of Energy Order on Radioactive Waste Management (DOE 5820.2A, Sept. 26, 1988).




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                            Rocky Flats also needs a site to receive about one-fourth of its enriched
                            uranium that is contaminated with plutonium. The site is sending most of
                            its enriched uranium to the Oak Ridge Reservation. However, Oak Ridge is
                            unable to take uranium that is contaminated with plutonium, and Rocky
                            Flats cannot remove enough of the plutonium contamination to send all of
                            its uranium to Oak Ridge. Rocky Flats may be able to send this plutonium-
                            contaminated uranium to Savannah River, which can process the material.
                            However, DOE is evaluating other technical options and is attempting to
                            determine where existing environmental impact statements allow for the
                            disposition of the remaining uranium.15

                            Still another orphan material at the site is depleted uranium contaminated
                            with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), a toxic substance.16 A few drums of
                            this material were unearthed during a recent environmental cleanup
                            project at the site. The one DOE facility that can process depleted uranium
                            with PCBs is the Oak Ridge Reservation. However, Tennessee is not
                            allowing the site to accept this waste. DOE is currently exploring potential
                            commercial disposal options for this material.


Other Coordination Issues   To close by the end of 2006, Rocky Flats will need adequate numbers of
Could Affect the Site’s     specialized transportation vehicles to ship large amounts of special nuclear
                            materials and nuclear wastes in the near future. However, contractor
Closure
                            officials regard the coordination of shipping schedules as a "key challenge,"
                            given projected generation rates, volumes, and storage capacity. For
                            example, plutonium and enriched uranium must be shipped in specially
                            equipped trucks and trailers called Safe Secure Transports, managed by
                            DOE’s Albuquerque Operations Office. Some Rocky Flats officials have
                            questioned whether enough of these transports will be available when the
                            site needs them, especially when shipping schedules change and other sites
                            are competing for their use. The site’s transuranic wastes must be shipped
                            in another type of truck and trailer with specialized transportation casks
                            called Transuranic Package Transporters (TRUPACT), managed by DOE’s
                            Carlsbad Area Office, where WIPP is located. DOE has only 15 TRUPACTs
                            available, and, according to site officials, Rocky Flats will need two to three


                            15Environmental impact statements are prepared to accompany major federal actions under the
                            National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.
                            16
                              Depleted uranium is natural uranium that has had most of its fissionable isotope, uranium 235,
                            stripped out for use in weapons or nuclear fuel production. PCBs are regulated by EPA under the Toxic
                            Substances Control Act, 15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq.




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                         times that number to meet its schedule for shipping transuranic wastes, at
                         the same time that other DOE sites will also need to ship transuranic waste
                         to WIPP. For example, under a court-approved consent order, the Idaho
                         National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory must begin shipping
                         transuranic waste off-site by April 30, 1999, ship 3,100 cubic meters of this
                         waste off-site by December 30, 2002, and remove all transuranic waste from
                         the site by 2018. As these dates approach, the laboratory’s needs will grow
                         more critical and could take priority over Rocky Flats’. The priority given
                         to Rocky Flats for limited transportation and other resources will have an
                         important impact on DOE’s ability to close the site by the end of 2006.
                         However, the Carlsbad Area Office has assured Rocky Flats that sufficient
                         numbers of TRUPACTs will be available to support the shipping schedule
                         for the site's accelerated closure.

                         The question of how much priority will be given to Rocky Flats’ needs is
                         not limited to transportation resources. Rocky Flats is located
                         organizationally under the Office of Environmental Management and often
                         depends on receiving cooperation, priority for its needs, and budgetary
                         support from other DOE organizations to move forward with activities
                         required to close the site. In some instances, other DOE organizations have
                         not given priority to such activities. For example, Rocky Flats depends on
                         the Pantex Plant, which is managed by DOE’s Office of Defense Programs,
                         to receive and store the majority of its plutonium pits. In fiscal year 1998,
                         Defense Programs’ funding for the Pantex Plant to receive Rocky Flats'
                         plutonium pits was not sufficient, and this, in part, caused some shipments
                         to be delayed. This issue was resolved in June 1998 when Defense
                         Programs and Environmental Management agreed that Defense Programs
                         would provide the resources needed to support the transportation, receipt,
                         and storage of the pits at the Pantex Plant.


DOE Has Taken Steps to   DOE has made efforts to coordinate activities across the Department to
Promote Coordination     support Rocky Flats’ accelerated closure. These efforts include
                         establishing a headquarters office, a senior management team, and a
                         management plan.

                         Under the Office of Environmental Management, the Rocky Flats Program
                         Office at headquarters works to coordinate Rocky Flats’ closure activities,
                         primarily by working with the program people within various DOE
                         organizations and sites. According to DOE officials, the staff in the Rocky
                         Flats Program Office have worked to establish sites to receive Rocky Flats’
                         materials and wastes, resolve issues raised under the National



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Environmental Policy Act, and resolve property disposition and workforce
restructuring issues.

In May 1998, the Deputy Secretary of Energy established the Rocky Flats
Closure Team (Senior Closure Team) to bring together assistant secretaries
and high-level managers from cognizant DOE organizations to focus on
crosscutting activities needed to accelerate Rocky Flats’ closure.
According to site and DOE headquarters officials, the Deputy Secretary’s
focus on this team persuaded headquarters organizations to cooperate,
focus on Rocky Flats’ closure, and provide budgetary support for closure
activities. For example, Defense Programs agreed to continue to work with
the site and provide adequate resources for shipping plutonium pits to the
Pantex Plant.

In June 1998, DOE issued a management plan outlining actions needed to
accelerate Rocky Flats’ cleanup and closure. Entitled Closure 2006--Rocky
Flats Closure Project: Management Plan, the plan recognizes that the site’s
closure requires DOE-wide coordination and cooperation to ensure the
availability of sites to receive materials and wastes from Rocky Flats and to
manage the shipping network so that materials and wastes can be removed
expeditiously. This plan discusses strategic initiatives, supported by
specific actions. According to site officials, former Secretary Peña
conceived the plan as a means to institutionalize the closure of Rocky Flats
within the Department—to assign responsibility to appropriate DOE
entities, beyond the site and Environmental Management, and to hold these
entities accountable for certain initiatives essential to the site’s closure.
Despite the development of this management plan and the site's resolution
of many of the issues and obstacles, the site still faces unresolved obstacles
to accelerating the site's closure, including the need for other sites to take
all of Rocky Flats' wastes and materials.

In addition to coordinating within the Department, DOE and Kaiser-Hill are
recognizing the importance of coordinating and cooperating with entities
outside the Department, especially the site’s regulators and other
stakeholders. Site officials stated that they have achieved broad consensus
with the regulators and stakeholders on a number of issues, including the
decision to clean up and close the site, the future use of the site's buffer
zone as open space, the demolition of the site's buildings, and the
requirement that surface water leaving the site be safe for any and all uses.
The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement is cited by DOE, EPA, and Colorado as
an example of successful cooperation between DOE and the site’s
regulators. Despite some instances of contentiousness, officials from both



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                      EPA and Colorado say that under the cleanup agreement, cooperation has
                      improved with both DOE and the contractor. Some of the site's other
                      stakeholders--including representatives of local communities and of
                      activist and environmental groups, as well as members of the Rocky Flats
                      Citizens Advisory Board—acknowledge that cooperation has improved
                      since the site’s production days but say that, at times, their input is neither
                      solicited nor used by DOE.



Challenges Outside    Several challenges that have already affected or could affect the schedule
                      for closing Rocky Flats are outside DOE’s control. The biggest challenge
DOE’s Control Could   was presented by continuing delays in opening WIPP.17 These delays--
Affect Closure        caused by regulatory issues with the state of New Mexico and lawsuits—
                      prevented Rocky Flats from shipping its transuranic wastes off-site for
                      disposal.

                      Although EPA certified WIPP to receive transuranic waste in May 1998,
                      DOE did not ship any waste to the facility until late March 1999, in part
                      because New Mexico refused the first scheduled shipment--from Los
                      Alamos National Laboratory—until the laboratory performed additional
                      sampling and analysis to prove the waste did not contain hazardous
                      materials.18 It is not clear whether New Mexico will establish similar
                      requirements for the sampling and analysis of transuranic waste shipments
                      from Rocky Flats, but such requirements could increase Rocky Flats’ costs
                      and create additional delays. In addition, DOE is seeking to obtain a
                      required permit from New Mexico for WIPP to accept transuranic waste
                      with hazardous materials. New Mexico issued a draft of this permit for
                      public comment in May 1998. However, according to DOE officials, the
                      state received over 10,000 comments on this draft and issued another draft
                      for comment. According to DOE officials, New Mexico could issue the
                      final permit in late 1999 or early 2000.

                      Federal lawsuits have also prevented DOE from shipping transuranic waste
                      to WIPP for disposal. In 1992, one such lawsuit led to an injunction barring
                      shipments to WIPP. No shipments could occur until the court made a
                      decision concerning the injunction. In March 1999, a federal district court
                      judge ruled that the 1992 injunction does not prevent the shipment of the

                      17Fora discussion of uncertainties about DOE’s ability to open WIPP by its projected date, see Nuclear
                      Waste: Uncertainties About Opening Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (GAO/RCED-96-146, July 16, 1996).
                      18
                           The state has the authority under RCRA to administer a hazardous waste program.




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               designated Los Alamos waste to WIPP. DOE’s first shipment of transuranic
               waste (with no hazardous materials) from Los Alamos arrived at WIPP on
               March 26, 1999. DOE anticipates sending additional shipments of
               transuranic waste to WIPP from Los Alamos, Idaho National Engineering
               and Environmental Laboratory, and Rocky Flats over the next several
               months. The Department still cannot ship transuranic wastes that include
               hazardous materials to the WIPP facility. In addition, another lawsuit, filed
               in July 1998, challenged EPA’s decision to certify WIPP for disposing of
               transuranic waste. According to DOE officials, this lawsuit could result in
               an injunction against WIPP’s operation.

               At current and projected rates of waste generation, Rocky Flats will run out
               of storage for transuranic waste in the spring or summer of 1999.
               Therefore, the site is implementing a contingency plan to provide about 2
               years’ worth of additional short-term interim storage at a capital cost of
               about $3.2 million in fiscal year 1999, plus about $865,000 per year in
               operating costs. In addition, the site is planning a new four-module
               structure for longer-term interim storage, expected to cost about $12.5
               million for one module and nearly $50 million for the entire structure. The
               site must decide whether to proceed with construction by August 1999.
               Because neither the short-term nor the longer-term storage was planned
               when the site’s closure budget was developed, the funding for both
               facilities would come at the expense of closure activities.



Observations   We support DOE’s efforts to reduce the threats posed by Rocky Flats to the
               people in the vicinity, as well as the costs of the site’s continuing operations
               and maintenance. The Department believes that accelerating the site’s
               cleanup and closure will achieve both of these worthwhile purposes.
               Although the DOE and the contractor are committed to closing the site by
               the end of 2006 and are drawing up a plan and schedules to reach this goal,
               the success of their efforts will depend on overcoming many obstacles and
               challenges. Establishing sites to take all of the wastes and materials that
               must be removed from Rocky Flats--finding sites to take the orphan
               materials and overcoming obstacles to the use of designated sites like
               WIPP--is critical to the success of the acceleration effort. Furthermore,
               promptly addressing technical and other difficulties, coordinating activities
               within DOE, and cooperating closely with regulators and other
               stakeholders will be key to accelerating the site’s closure. DOE and the
               contractor continue to make progress in all of these areas, but the
               magnitude of the remaining challenges and uncertainties is such that the
               site's closure by the end of 2006 appears difficult at best.



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Agency Comments and   In overall comments on this report, the Department generally concurred
                      with the facts as presented, stating that GAO had done a thorough job of
Our Evaluation        documenting the complexity, uncertainties, and challenges DOE is facing in
                      accelerating the closure of Rocky Flats. DOE noted that the issues
                      identified are known to the Department and are being addressed at this
                      time. In addition, the Department stated that the report validates the
                      overall direction and movement toward accelerating the site’s closure, as
                      well as DOE’s and the contractor workforce’s commitment to it.

                      The Department commented that the report does not adequately recognize
                      the progress already made or the obstacles already overcome in
                      accelerating Rocky Flats’ closure. In its comments, the Department stated
                      that its performance track record in the last few years justifies continued
                      confidence in its ability to close the site by the end of 2006. While we
                      recognize that progress has been made in cleaning up the site, we believe
                      that the challenges to acceleration that we identified--in the residues
                      program, the shipment of special nuclear materials, the decontamination
                      and decommissioning of buildings, and the use of closure caps--need to be
                      surfaced and addressed. The Department also provided a list of obstacles
                      identified in the report that have been resolved. On the basis of DOE’s
                      comments and changes that have occurred since the draft report was
                      prepared, we updated the relevant information in the report.

                      The full text of DOE’s comments is contained in appendix I. The
                      Department separately provided technical comments, which we
                      incorporated into the text as appropriate.




                      Page 46                               GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
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Status of the Site at Closure and Activities
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                                                                                                                                      r




                        Although there is broad consensus that Rocky Flats should be closed, the
                        Department has not reached agreement with the site's regulators and other
                        stakeholders on several aspects of the condition of the site at closure or its
                        future uses. Nonetheless, DOE and Kaiser-Hill are moving toward a vision
                        of closure set forth in the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement. This vision
                        consists of broad goals and objectives, including the removal of special
                        nuclear materials and radioactive and hazardous wastes from the site; the
                        decontamination, decommissioning, and demolition of the site’s buildings;
                        and the site's cleanup to certain levels.1 However, other decisions about
                        the site remain to be made or may be subject to change, including its future
                        uses, the degree to which the soil must be cleaned up, the disposition of the
                        site's building foundations and utilities, and the use of closure caps for
                        portions of the former industrial area. Without agreement with regulators
                        and stakeholders on these issues, the feasibility of closing the site by the
                        end of 2006 is open to question. According to DOE, it is moving forward on
                        decisions about the site’s closure and the activities that will be required
                        after closure in accordance with its schedule for making needed decisions
                        and the regulatory requirements governing the site’s cleanup. Although
                        DOE has started the process to obtain input from the regulators and other
                        stakeholders, early resolution of these issues would allow DOE and the
                        contractor to address their ramifications promptly in plans and schedules
                        for the site's closure.

                        DOE is just starting to consider its responsibilities and activities at Rocky
                        Flats after the site is closed. For example, it is considering how much
                        additional cleanup may be required; who will own and monitor the site; and
                        what barriers will be used to prevent exposure to residual contamination.
                        Developing plans for the site after closure will be difficult until agreement
                        has been reached on the status of the site at closure and the future uses of
                        the site.



Full Agreement on the   The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement generally describes the site as it
                        should be after it closes, whether closure occurs by the end of 2006, in
Status of the Site at   2010, or some other date. Briefly, the agreement requires
Closure Has Not Been
                        • cleaning up and closing the site safely and in compliance with applicable
Reached                   laws;


                        1
                         Under CERCLA (42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq.), the final condition of the site will be determined in a record of
                        decision.




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                          • minimizing risks to the public or workers from contamination and
                            accidents;
                          • disposing of wastes and materials, buildings and facilities, and
                            infrastructure;
                          • ensuring that surface water leaving the site is of acceptable quality for
                            any use; and
                          • cleaning up the site to the level needed for the buffer zone to be used, in
                            general, as open space and for the industrial area to be used as
                            restricted open space or for industrial purposes.

                          The vision of the site at closure set forth in the Rocky Flats Cleanup
                          Agreement was designed to guide the regulators—EPA and Colorado—and
                          to give DOE the flexibility to clean up and close the site. Under the cleanup
                          agreement, special nuclear materials will be removed by 2015; other
                          radioactive and hazardous wastes will be removed; and all buildings will be
                          decontaminated, decommissioned, and demolished. However, DOE has
                          since established 2006 as its goal to close the site. Under the agreement,
                          the regulators set milestones annually for the site’s cleanup activities,
                          which are enforceable by stipulated financial penalties.

                          The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement provides DOE and the regulators with
                          a guide to reach the site’s closure, but not to go beyond it. Under
                          CERCLA,2 the final condition of the site will be determined in a record of
                          decision.3 This record of decision will address future uses of the land;
                          ownership, stewardship, monitoring, and liability; and barriers to prevent
                          human or environmental exposure to residual contamination. As part of
                          the decision-making process, DOE and the regulators must seek input from
                          the site’s stakeholders.



Decisions on the Status   DOE, the regulators, and the site's stakeholders still have to agree on
                          important issues affecting the site’s closure, including the (1) future uses of
of the Site at Closure    the site, (2) appropriate cleanup level for the soil; (3) disposition of the
May Affect Accelerated    site’s building foundations and utilities, and (4) use of closure caps over
                          portions of the former industrial area. According to DOE site officials,
Cleanup                   under the CERCLA and other regulatory processes, these issues are in
                          various stages of discussion with the regulators and stakeholders, and time

                          242   U.S.C. 9601 et seq.
                          3
                           The cleanup agreement provides that the regulators, in consultation with DOE, have the authority to
                          decide when the site is closed.




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                          remains for their resolution. However, decisions on each of these issues—
                          or the failure to reach a decision—could affect the progress of the site’s
                          cleanup and closure.


Future Uses of the Site   The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement provides only a very general
                          description of the site's future uses. According to DOE officials, there is
                          broad consensus with the site's stakeholders on the use of the buffer zone
                          as some type of open space, but not on the use of the industrial area for
                          future industrial use. DOE must still clearly define and reach consensus
                          with the site’s regulators and other stakeholders on the specifics of these
                          future uses. The Department has been discussing possible future uses with
                          some of the site's stakeholders and regulators since 1994. Decisions on the
                          future uses could affect the site’s cleanup requirements. For example, a
                          protected wildlife habitat with limited human presence might require less
                          cleanup than an industrial development with extensive human use.
                          Currently, some local communities are debating whether to allow
                          development on any or part of the site’s buffer zone or industrial area. In
                          addition, DOE must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about
                          proposed actions that might affect the endangered or threatened species on
                          the site. In May 1998, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, which inhabits
                          portions of the site, was added to the list of threatened species. DOE
                          officials stated that the need to protect the mouse's habitat may have an
                          impact on some closure activities. However, DOE site officials stated that,
                          at this point, no stakeholder group has formally requested a future use of
                          the site that is inconsistent with assumptions in the cleanup agreement.


Soil Cleanup Level        The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement sets an interim cleanup level of 1,429
                          picocuries4 of plutonium per gram of soil.5 Although DOE site officials said
                          that the soil cleanup level for Rocky Flats is legally enforceable, it is, as an
                          interim level under CERCLA, subject to change.6 Some local stakeholders
                          disagree with this cleanup level, noting that DOE agreed to more stringent

                          4
                            A picocurie is a trillionth of a curie, which is the amount of radioactivity in a gram of radium. The
                          picocurie level was based on a maximum annual absorbed dosage level of radiation.
                          5According to DOE, the cleanup levels for the site, as set in the regulatory agreement, are based on
                          communities’ recommendations on future land uses contained in reports of the Future Site Use
                          Working Group (1995) and the Industrial Area Transition Task Force (1998).
                          6
                            According to DOE, iterative implementation is the CERCLA process; interim levels have been set, and
                          the CERCLA process specifies that final cleanup levels will be set through the record of decision for the
                          site.




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levels at other DOE sites. For example, DOE reported that cleanup levels
were set at 200 picocuries of plutonium per gram of soil at the Nevada Test
Site and 34 picocuries of plutonium per gram of soil at the Hanford Site in
Washington State. DOE officials explained that the different cleanup levels
reflect differences in each site’s geological and environmental conditions
and anticipated future land uses. The anticipated future use of a site is one
factor in determining how much cleanup is considered necessary to protect
humans from undue exposure to residual contamination. Because Rocky
Flats is expected to be used primarily as open space, with some industrial
use, DOE officials said that it should require a less stringent cleanup level
than the Nevada Test Site, which is expected to be used for farming or
ranching, and the Hanford Site, which is expected to be used for rural
housing. To establish each site’s cleanup level, DOE used a computer
model incorporating about 70 different variables, including geological and
environmental conditions and anticipated uses. Site-specific historical
data on the forms of plutonium at the site and the migration of this material
was available for Rocky Flats, and these data were used in the model to set
the soil cleanup level. According to DOE officials, such site-specific data
were not available for the other sites, and default values, which assumed a
more soluble form of plutonium that is more easily ingested, were used in
the model. The cleanup agreement recognizes that the soil cleanup level
set by the existing model could change with new regulations, different
guidance, improved calculations or models, or better input variables.
However, according to site officials, changing the soil cleanup level for the
site would require a formal public process and agreement among DOE,
EPA, and Colorado.

In response to stakeholders’ concerns about the cleanup level set for the
soil at Rocky Flats, DOE agreed, in fiscal year 1998, to provide
approximately $500,000 to fund a review of that cleanup level. The Rocky
Flats Citizens Advisory Board is overseeing this review, which is being
conducted by a technical subcontractor. Representatives of the board said
that if the study supports greater cleanup of the site, they will recommend
that DOE adopt a more stringent cleanup level. These representatives
estimated that potential recommendations should be available in late 1999.
According to the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement, officials from DOE,
Colorado, and EPA will have to decide whether and how to take action on
any recommendations resulting from the review.

The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement also requires that surface water
leaving the site be acceptable for any and all uses (including drinking
water). DOE established a series of holding ponds, ditches, and dams to



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                            trap contaminants and prevent their migration off-site in surface water.
                            However, in August 1997, monitoring devices recorded unacceptably high
                            levels of plutonium and americium7 in surface water leaving the site. EPA
                            fined DOE $45,000, in fiscal year 1998, for this violation.8 The source of the
                            contamination has not been identified. According to site officials, the
                            contamination could have been either concentrated in the soil in a single
                            location or spread throughout the soil and later concentrated by the water
                            when it collected and flowed through the site. According to DOE officials,
                            the site has not had any further water quality violations. Colorado and EPA
                            can require DOE to take additional action to clean up the soil if such action
                            is needed to ensure that surface water meets water quality standards.

                            DOE is also conducting another study at Rocky Flats to determine the
                            presence of radioactive contaminants and track their movement through
                            the soil. Although the final results of the study may not be available for
                            several years, site and regulatory officials say the results should provide
                            valuable information on the cleanup necessary to prevent the migration of
                            radioactive contaminants.


Disposition of Building     DOE and contractor officials began discussions with the regulators and
Foundations and Utilities   stakeholders in 1998 on the disposition of the site's building foundations,
                            and a document has been issued for public comment. Kaiser-Hill officials
                            are proposing that the foundations be left in place, believing that the costs
                            of removal would be prohibitive and that the act of removal could cause
                            contaminants to be released into the environment. In addition, Kaiser-Hill
                            is proposing that the foundations be filled in with noncontaminated, inert
                            rubble (such as concrete) from the demolition of buildings on-site.
                            Contractor officials argue that this proposal would save time and money.
                            Otherwise, clean fill would have to be shipped in to fill in the foundations.
                            Although the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement does not discuss the use of
                            rubble as fill, it does allow noncontaminated building rubble to remain on-
                            site. DOE, Colorado, and EPA must agree on Kaiser-Hill’s proposal, and no
                            decisions have yet been made. The regulators want additional information
                            on the contamination around and under the building foundations before
                            they make their decisions. However, some regulator officials have
                            expressed support for the use of noncontaminated rubble as fill.


                            7Another   man-made radioactive element.
                            8
                             The Department is disputing EPA’s findings, on the grounds that the water samples were too small for
                            valid results. The dispute has been sent to an EPA administrative law judge for a hearing.




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                      DOE and the contractor have started discussions with the regulators and
                      stakeholders on the removal of utilities and their associated infrastructure
                      at the site. After the buildings are demolished, underground cables, pipes,
                      and other utilities will remain throughout the facility. Currently, the plans
                      for closing the site assume that they will remain in place. Kaiser-Hill
                      officials are concerned that their removal would be prohibitively expensive
                      and could stir up contaminants, releasing them into the environment.
                      According to these officials, utilities that might contain radioactive or
                      hazardous materials should be sealed and left in place. However, according
                      to a regulatory official, under the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement,
                      radiological or hazardous contamination must be cleaned up to the
                      required standards or managed over the long term to prevent the
                      contamination from harming the public or the environment. Some
                      stakeholders also said that potentially contaminated utilities should be
                      removed to prevent future health hazards. They added that DOE cannot
                      rely on physical, legal, or regulatory barriers to prevent mining,
                      construction, or other invasive activities in the future, because
                      contamination left in place could remain hazardous for thousands of years.


Use of Closure Caps   Closure caps, usually consisting of several layers of earthen or
                      manufactured materials, are designed to establish a protective barrier
                      between contamination that remains on-site and the public or the
                      environment. To accelerate the site's closure, the contractor plans to
                      construct closure caps over portions of the industrial area after the
                      radioactively contaminated buildings have been demolished, but Colorado
                      and EPA officials said that no decisions have been made about using
                      closure caps in these areas. Furthermore, the Rocky Flats Cleanup
                      Agreement does not discuss the use of closure caps for areas other than
                      landfills and solar evaporation ponds. According to DOE, this use of
                      closure caps has not yet been formally proposed for comment as part of
                      any specific cleanup project, but a formal proposal will be made on a
                      timetable consistent with the site’s cleanup schedule and CERCLA’s
                      guidance.

                      Some stakeholders have suggested that the contractor may be planning to
                      rely on closure caps instead of removing contaminants to the agreed-upon
                      cleanup level. These stakeholders are concerned that the contractor may
                      propose less stringent cleanup levels in the portions of the industrial area
                      to be capped. In addition, several stakeholders said they expect the closure
                      caps to fail long before the contamination ceases to be a threat. DOE and
                      contractor officials acknowledged that closure caps are likely to fail over



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                            time, particularly if they are not adequately maintained. DOE officials
                            further noted that some closure caps at other facilities have failed. DOE
                            officials said that closure caps would have to be monitored and maintained
                            after the site’s closure and might need to be augmented by other physical
                            and legally restrictive barriers9 to ensure that they provide the required
                            protection.



DOE's Activities and        DOE has just begun to consider its activities and responsibilities at Rocky
                            Flats after the site is closed. For example, the site may require additional
Responsibilities After      cleanup, questions of ownership and stewardship remain to be resolved,
Closure Have Not Been       and decisions about the use of physical and regulatory barriers need to be
                            made. Certain programmatic, legal, or fiscal liabilities may be associated
Defined                     with these activities and responsibilities. The Rocky Flats Cleanup
                            Agreement primarily guides the cleanup of the site to closure but provides
                            only limited guidance without specifying activities or liabilities after
                            closure.


Additional Cleanup of the   The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement allows some of the site’s
Site                        infrastructure to stay in place, including roads, parking lots, and other such
                            remnants of DOE’s facilities. DOE officials said that the removal of this
                            infrastructure is not included in the Department’s cost and schedule
                            estimates for the site’s closure. Although these officials had no detailed
                            estimates available, they said that such work “would take a long time to
                            complete.” Colorado and EPA officials said they are aware that closure
                            does not include the removal of all infrastructure. However, they
                            recognized that other stakeholders, as well as the general public, might
                            expect a “green field” at closure, rather than a site with roads, parking lots,
                            and other remnants of the site’s infrastructure. In addition, some
                            stakeholders, including the Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board, would
                            like cleanup activities to continue after closure and, ultimately, would like




                            9
                              Legally restrictive barriers may include laws and regulations designed to preclude future development
                            of the area or other disturbance of residual contamination.




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                            the site cleaned up to background levels—that is, until the only remaining
                            radiation is indistinguishable from background radiation.10 However, the
                            cleanup agreement notes that cleanup to background levels is not required
                            and may not be technically or economically feasible.


Ownership and Stewardship   DOE has not started negotiations with its regulators or other stakeholders
of the Site                 over who will own Rocky Flats after it is closed. No decisions have been
                            made about whether DOE will retain ownership. Even if it does not retain
                            ownership, DOE will almost certainly face ongoing responsibility and
                            liability for the site. Similarly, no decisions have been made about
                            stewardship requirements, including whether DOE or some other
                            organization will maintain and monitor the site after closure. The
                            Department will continue to have a role at Rocky Flats after it is closed, but
                            the extent or duration of that role has not been defined. Stewardship
                            activities after the site is closed could include monitoring groundwater;
                            taking soil samples; maintaining infrastructure, such as fences; maintaining
                            closure caps or other barriers to prevent contaminants from being
                            released; and preserving records of cleanup activities and residual
                            contamination at the site.


Institutional Barriers      DOE is considering a variety of institutional barriers to contain residual
                            contamination at the site or separate it from the public and the
                            environment. Physical barriers—such as fences and caps--are designed to
                            prevent exposure to contaminants released by disturbing the soil or other
                            means. Other institutional barriers—such as laws and regulations--are
                            designed to document the contamination and legally preclude future
                            development or other disturbance in contaminated areas. Because residual
                            radioactivity is expected to remain for thousands of years, institutional
                            barriers will be needed, especially in the more contaminated areas.

                            DOE has not reached agreement with the site’s regulators or other
                            stakeholders on which institutional barriers to use at Rocky Flats.
                            According to DOE, issues to be considered when making this decision
                            include the site’s potential future uses, the expected longevity of the
                            barriers, and the maintenance required for the barriers. As noted, closure
                            caps and fences are expected to degrade over time and would need to be


                            10
                             This is the naturally occurring radiation in the environment, emitted mainly by rays from space and
                            natural radioactive elements in the soil, such as potassium, uranium, and thorium.




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                                repaired or replaced. Decisions also remain to be made on whether DOE
                                or some other government entity will be responsible for (1) monitoring and
                                maintaining the physical barriers; (2) enforcing legal barriers, such as
                                legislation or regulations; (3) replacing failed barriers; (4) addressing
                                liabilities that may result from failed barriers; and (5) determining when
                                barriers are no longer necessary.


Guidance for Activities and     DOE’s Office of Strategic Planning and Analysis has recently begun to
Responsibilities After Sites'   develop draft guidance for the Department's activities and responsibilities
                                after its sites are closed. Without this guidance, DOE has been addressing
Closure
                                these issues on a case-by-case basis as sites have been closed. DOE
                                officials said the guidance should address ownership and stewardship
                                issues, as well as potential future liabilities and plans for dealing with
                                residual contamination or institutional barriers. However, the officials do
                                not expect the guidance to be available for several years. At Rocky Flats,
                                DOE officials do not expect to have plans and cost estimates for the
                                Department's activities and responsibilities after closure for another 2
                                years. Because these activities and responsibilities for Rocky Flats have
                                not been defined, DOE officials are unable to estimate the duration of
                                DOE’s long-term responsibilities.

                                To date, DOE has given stewardship responsibilities for many of its closed
                                facilities to the Long-Term Surveillance and Maintenance Program at the
                                Department’s Grand Junction Project Office in Colorado. Grand Junction
                                reports that it is responsible for 25 sites, most of them former uranium
                                mines. However, none of the sites under this program is nearly as large or
                                complex as Rocky Flats. DOE has not decided whether Grand Junction
                                will be responsible for Rocky Flats after closure.



Observations                    Resolving the many outstanding issues associated with the closure and
                                future uses of Rocky Flats appears vital, not only for closing the site by the
                                end of 2006 but also for planning activities and responsibilities after
                                closure. Until DOE has reached agreement with its regulators and other
                                stakeholders on these issues, it cannot determine specifically what it must
                                do to reach closure or whether it will be able to achieve this goal by the end
                                of 2006. Furthermore, decisions on outstanding issues, such as the
                                disposition of the site’s utilities or the use of closure caps over portions of
                                the former industrial area, could have serious repercussions for the site’s
                                closure schedule. Early resolution of these outstanding issues would allow
                                DOE and the contractor to address their ramifications and mitigate their


                                Page 55                                GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                      Chapter 3
                      Status of the Site at Closure and Activities
                      After Closure Have Not Been Defined




                      impact on efforts to accelerate the site's closure. Planning for the site after
                      closure also requires reaching agreement on its condition at closure and its
                      future uses.



Agency Comments and   The Department raised a general concern that “this report identifies
                      uncertainties facing the closure that are either rooted in the regulatory
Our Evaluation        structure governing the clean up, that are not ripe for resolution or that in
                      fact are not obstacles to closure.” The Department stated that in several of
                      the areas of uncertainty discussed in this chapter, DOE has reached
                      significant agreement. Furthermore, DOE stated that it is moving forward
                      in accordance with the needed decision schedule and the CERCLA
                      regulatory and statutory regime that govern this cleanup. Finally, DOE
                      stated that the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement sets the bounding
                      conditions within which the issues identified by GAO need to be resolved,
                      but that these issues are not obstacles to closing the site by the end of 2006.
                      On the basis of DOE’s comments, we added information to the report on
                      the Department’s actions within the regulations governing the site’s
                      cleanup, as well as other issues. However, we do not agree with DOE’s
                      position that the uncertainties described and the decisions that remain
                      would have no impact on the site’s closure. We note that the agreements
                      that are in place, such as the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement, are broad in
                      nature, leaving many of the specific details to be resolved. Moreover, in its
                      comments, the Department states that it has not yet issued formal
                      documents for public comment on several of the issues, so it is not clear
                      how the issues will be resolved or what the results will be. Our purpose is
                      not to question the regulatory processes, but to point out where decisions
                      remain to be made or changes could occur. While DOE does not view the
                      issues discussed as obstacles to the site’s closure, we believe that these
                      issues—the site’s future uses, the soil cleanup level, the disposition of the
                      building foundations and utilities, and the use of closure caps--are subject
                      to a number of decisions and changes that could affect closure to varying
                      degrees.

                      The full text of DOE’s comments is contained in appendix I. The
                      Department separately provided technical comments, which we
                      incorporated into the text as appropriate.




                      Page 56                                GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Chapter 4

Costs of Closing Rocky Flats May Be Higher
Than Estimated                                                                                                                 Chapte4
                                                                                                                                     r




                        The costs of cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats could be higher than
                        DOE's estimate of $7.3 billion, and the savings from accelerating its closure
                        could be lower than the Department’s $1.3 billion estimate. 1 Site managers
                        representing both DOE and the contractor said that for $7.3 billion, Rocky
                        Flats could accomplish the activities planned from fiscal year 1997 through
                        2010,2 if the assumptions underlying this estimate were met and the plans
                        for closing the site did not change significantly. However, a more recent
                        detailed cost estimate, developed by the contractor's mid-level managers
                        and based on the same major assumptions as the $7.3 billion estimate,
                        indicated that closing the site would cost at least $8.4 billion. In addition,
                        many of the assumptions underlying the $7.3 billion estimate have changed
                        or may change, indicating higher costs for some closure activities. As a
                        result, the actual cost of closing the site could be significantly higher than
                        $7.3 billion. Furthermore, this cost estimate does not include costs DOE
                        expects to incur after the site is closed; these costs could range from
                        hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. Finally, the savings of $1.3
                        billion that DOE expects to achieve by closing the site by the end of 2006
                        instead of in 2010 represent the costs it expects to avoid by not having to
                        pay for operations and maintenance during those 4 years. Therefore, if the
                        site cannot be closed by the end of 2006, DOE will continue to incur these
                        costs, and the savings will be less. Moreover, according to a preliminary
                        cost estimate presented by the contractor in February 1999, the savings
                        from accelerating the site's closure by 4 years would be only about half as
                        great as DOE estimated.3



Closure Costs May Be    In fiscal year 1997, Kaiser-Hill proposed five closure scenarios for Rocky
                        Flats and developed schedule and cost estimates for each of them. These
Higher Than Estimated   estimates included the costs of activities at the site from fiscal year 1997
                        through the site's closure. The proposals ranged from closure by the end of
                        fiscal year 2027 at a cost of $16.1 billion to closure by the end of fiscal year
                        2010 at a cost of $7.3 billion. DOE officials chose to pursue the proposal
                        for closure in 2010. DOE and Kaiser-Hill managers maintain that they have
                        a high level of confidence in the $7.3 billion estimate as long as the closure
                        plan does not change significantly and certain assumptions are met--such

                        1
                          Unless otherwise noted, dollar values represent the sum of annual expenditures and incorporate an
                        annual 2.7-percent increase for expected inflation.
                        2The   2010 plan is based on closing the site by the end of fiscal year 2010.
                        3
                         This preliminary cost estimate for the 2006 closure plan had not yet been formally presented to the
                        Department.




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                        Chapter 4
                        Costs of Closing Rocky Flats May Be Higher
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                        as consistent, stable funding for the site and no new construction on the
                        site. However, a more recent estimate developed by Kaiser-Hill's mid-level
                        managers indicates substantially higher costs, and assumptions underlying
                        the $7.3 billion estimate have changed, also indicating higher costs.


New Estimate Reflects   In 1998, Kaiser-Hill developed a second, more detailed cost estimate for
Higher Closure Costs    closing Rocky Flats in 2010. This estimate, which totaled $8.4 billion, was
                        based on the same major assumptions and schedule as the first estimate
                        but was developed through the use of a different budget estimating system.
                        Specifically, the contractor required mid-level managers to provide support
                        for and details on labor, materials, and other factors that could affect the
                        costs of specific projects needed to close the site. The mid-level managers
                        were also required to weight their cost estimates to reflect the degree of
                        risk inherent in each project’s cost, schedule, and technology. According to
                        Kaiser-Hill officials, the mid-level managers' conservative approach in
                        developing this detailed “bottoms-up” estimate increased the projected
                        cost to $8.4 billion.

                        Although DOE site officials have reviewed portions of both the $7.3 billion
                        and the $8.4 billion cost estimates covering the first 2 years, they have not
                        reviewed either estimate in its entirety. DOE has, however, reviewed the
                        cost estimates for certain projects in the contractor’s estimating system
                        and has questioned both the accuracy of and support for these estimates,
                        which are components of the $8.4 billion estimate. Although DOE’s
                        reviews identified some cost estimates that erred on the side of
                        conservatism, they also noted that Kaiser-Hill provided inadequate
                        documentation to justify some costs and relied too heavily on previous
                        estimates for which there was little support. Kaiser-Hill managers
                        acknowledged that DOE has valid concerns about the cost estimating
                        system and cost estimates but said they hope to correct deficiencies in the
                        system through internal reviews and external verification of the estimates.

                        DOE site managers said they directed the contractor to hire an independent
                        auditing firm to review and verify the $7.3 billion estimate, using the plans
                        for closure in 2010. DOE officials said they expect this review to identify
                        possible systemic deficiencies in planning and budgeting and to provide
                        lessons that Kaiser-Hill can use in developing plans and estimates for
                        closing the site by the end of 2006. The contractor expects this
                        independent review, which started in January 1999, to have results
                        available in the spring of 1999. The site’s regulators, however, questioned
                        whether an independent review could validate Kaiser-Hill’s closure plans



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                         Chapter 4
                         Costs of Closing Rocky Flats May Be Higher
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                         and cost estimates within these time frames, given the complex and
                         technical requirements for closure.

                         In addition to the independent review of the contractor’s 2010 closure
                         plans, the Department’s Office of Field Management is planning to hire an
                         independent auditing firm to verify the detailed plans and cost estimates
                         that Kaiser-Hill is developing for closure by the end of 2006. According to
                         DOE site officials, this validation could take place during the summer of
                         1999.


Changes in Assumptions   Although DOE site managers expressed confidence in Kaiser-Hill’s $7.3
May Increase Costs       billion cost estimate, they were concerned about the many changes in
                         assumptions about closure that have occurred since that estimate was
                         developed in 1997. As noted, these changes were also not incorporated in
                         the contractor’s $8.4 billion estimate. While some changes have led to
                         savings, most are expected to increase costs. Descriptions of some of the
                         actual and potential changes and their likely impact on costs follow.

                         • Residues program. Kaiser-Hill’s new approach to managing residues—
                           packaging them in “pipe and go” containers for shipment to WIPP--is
                           expected to cost at least $50 million less than the on-site processing
                           originally planned.
                         • Decontamination and decommissioning. After completing a detailed
                           analysis of the initial costs of decontamination, decommissioning, and
                           demolition of the first significantly contaminated building to date, the
                           contractor revised the sitewide cost estimate for this activity from $332
                           million to $912 million.4
                         • On-site storage. If designated sites do not take Rocky Flats’ plutonium
                           and transuranic waste as planned, Rocky Flats could incur
                           unanticipated costs for ongoing storage. For example, if Rocky Flats
                           cannot ship its plutonium metals and oxides to Savannah River, it would
                           have to spend about $43 million to construct a vault for storing these
                           materials, plus about $40 million a year for operations.5 Similarly, if


                         4According to the contractor, the $332 million estimate is in constant 1998 dollars and the $912 million
                         estimate is in constant 1999 dollars. The difference between these dollar estimates would be slightly
                         smaller if the same dollar base year were used to develop both estimates. Constant dollars are net of
                         inflation. The contractor expects that benchmarking of the site's decontamination and
                         decommissioning to commercial standards, as well as incorporating learning and other efficiencies, will
                         reduce the $912 million estimate.
                         5
                             Estimates are in fiscal year 1999 constant dollars.




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  Rocky Flats cannot ship its transuranic and transuranic mixed wastes to
  WIPP, it would have to spend about $50 million to construct a longer-
  term interim storage facility, plus an estimated $8 million a year for
  operations. Finally, if DOE cannot find a site to take its low-level mixed
  waste with higher plutonium content, it would have to spend $23 million
  to construct a temporary storage facility, plus $10 million to $15 million
  per year to operate it. DOE site officials emphasized that issues
  surrounding these potential costs are largely unknown at this time.
• Plutonium stabilization and packaging. Because of reliability and
  technical problems with the stabilization portion of an automated
  system, DOE decided to use manually operated furnaces in place of the
  automated system to stabilize plutonium metals and oxides. As a result,
  DOE expects to spend about $3 million more than planned in fiscal year
  1999 to procure the furnaces and associated equipment for the site. In
  addition, because of a recent DOE headquarters decision, the site will be
  spending an additional $2 million in fiscal year 1999 and $12 million in
  fiscal year 2000 to procure transportation containers for shipping the
  plutonium metals and oxides and storing them at Savannah River.
  Originally, the containers were to be procured by Savannah River.
• Status of the site at closure. Decisions about the condition of the site
  when it is closed, such as the acceptable levels of contaminants in soil
  and water, could have a significant impact on DOE’s costs, both before
  and after closure. For example, water quality issues have already
  proved costly. According to site officials, since the early 1990s, DOE has
  spent over $100 million to comply with the Clean Water Act’s
  requirements and to protect local communities’ water supplies. DOE
  expects to spend over $770,000 in 1999 on another project to protect the
  water supply for one of these communities. Some existing projects will
  require maintenance and possible replacement, and other projects--
  including diversion dams, ditches, or holding ponds--are likely to be
  constructed in the future, at DOE's expense.
• Threatened and endangered species. Because of requirements to
  protect the designated habitats of endangered and threatened species
  found at the site, DOE could incur additional costs for activities related
  to closure. For example, DOE officials stated that protecting the habitat
  of the threatened Preble's meadow jumping mouse, which inhabits
  portions of the site's buffer zone, may entail additional costs. DOE has
  not estimated the impact of protecting the mouse’s habitat on its
  cleanup activities or costs. However, DOE is required to consult with
  the Fish and Wildlife Service on any projects that may affect threatened
  or endangered species on the site. The Fish and Wildlife Service may
  require mitigation efforts to ensure the protection of these species'



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                                Than Estimated




                                   habitats. In some cases, DOE may be required to submit a biological
                                   assessment to evaluate the potential impact on a species and to propose
                                   mitigation plans to minimize that impact.

                                While DOE officials have maintained that minor changes in the
                                assumptions underlying Kaiser-Hill’s $7.3 billion estimate could be offset by
                                cost efficiencies elsewhere, they have acknowledged that major
                                disruptions or changes in these assumptions could have a major impact on
                                the estimate. DOE officials said that concern about major changes was
                                part of the reason they called for an independent review and verification of
                                the current closure plans and cost estimate.

                                Some regulators and other stakeholders have questioned the validity of the
                                $7.3 billion cost estimate, recognizing the potential for higher costs.
                                Stakeholders were concerned that the Congress might suspend or reduce
                                funds for the site’s cleanup if the work costs much more or takes much
                                longer than planned, leaving cleanup work undone and unfunded. Some
                                stakeholders were also concerned that only the high-risk, high-profile
                                cleanup work would be done, leaving activities such as environmental
                                remediation unfunded or underfunded. Other stakeholders said that
                                although they are not averse to accelerating the site’s closure, they are
                                much more interested in seeing the cleanup work done safely and
                                correctly.



Costs After Rocky               DOE’s costs for Rocky Flats will not end when the site is closed. The $7.3
                                billion cost estimate for closure does not include the costs of activities and
Flats Is Closed Could           responsibilities after the site is closed. DOE officials have begun
Be Substantial                  developing plans for these activities and responsibilities, including
                                additional cleanup of the site, stewardship of the site, and workforce and
                                legal liabilities.


Potential Costs of Activities   DOE is likely to have some additional cleanup and other responsibilities
After the Site Is Closed        after the site is closed. Under legislative and regulatory requirements, DOE
                                may be liable for remaining contamination and infrastructure, as well as
                                future problems that may arise at the site. For example, DOE may be
                                responsible for the following activities:

                                • Removing the site’s remaining infrastructure. Site officials said the site’s
                                  stakeholders may press for the removal of roads, parking lots, and other
                                  remnants of the site’s infrastructure after closure. Such activities would


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    have to be negotiated with the stakeholders, but site officials estimate
    that the additional cleanup could cost tens of millions of dollars.6
•   Storing nuclear materials and wastes on-site. If DOE is unable to find
    sites to take all of Rocky Flats' nuclear materials and wastes before
    closure, it is likely to incur storage and cleanup costs after the site is
    closed. Without knowing which materials and wastes it will have to
    store after closure, or for how long, DOE's liability for operating and
    subsequently decontaminating, decommissioning, and demolishing
    storage facilities could exceed $100 million. For example, DOE
    estimates it would cost about $40 million a year to operate a plutonium
    storage vault on-site, plus $8 million for decontamination,
    decommissioning, and demolition. Similarly, it would cost an estimated
    $8 million a year to operate a longer-term interim transuranic waste
    storage facility, plus an estimated $5 million for decontamination,
    decommissioning, and demolition. Finally, it would cost $10 million to
    $15 million per year to operate a temporary low-level mixed waste
    storage facility and $3 million to perform decontamination,
    decommissioning, and demolition.
•   Maintaining water quality. Water quality issues have already proved
    costly for DOE. DOE may have to perform additional soil cleanup to
    maintain water quality, even if the site has been closed. DOE has no
    cost estimates for such cleanup activities, but a site official
    acknowledged that the costs could be significant.
•   Reducing soil contamination. The Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board
    and other stakeholders have considered asking DOE to clean up the soil
    at Rocky Flats to background radiation levels. While recognizing that
    such extensive cleanup is “beyond the reach of today’s technology,
    budgetary resources, and legal requirements,” the Rocky Flats Cleanup
    Agreement states that “further cleanup efforts will be made where
    feasible as fiscal resources and cost effective technology allow.”
    According to site officials, if DOE’s record of decision on the site's final
    condition requires additional cleanup of the soil after closure, the costs
    could be significant.
•   Responding to unanticipated problems. Finally, DOE officials said the
    Department may be liable for further cleanup if unanticipated problems
    occur in the future, particularly if they have a negative impact on human
    health or the environment. For example, an unanticipated release of
    residual contamination could require mitigation efforts, such as a


6
  Unless otherwise noted, costs estimates for activities and responsibilities after the site is closed are in
fiscal year 1998 constant dollars.




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                         Costs of Closing Rocky Flats May Be Higher
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                             response to the release, additional cleanup, repairs, or payments for
                             damages. Costs associated with these potential future liabilities cannot
                             be estimated, but DOE officials indicated that they could be substantial.
                             DOE site officials said that over the next 2 years, they hope to work with
                             the site’s regulators and stakeholders to define the extent of DOE’s
                             liability in the event of unanticipated future problems.


Potential Costs of       No decisions have been made about stewardship activities at Rocky Flats
Stewardship Activities   after the site is closed, but DOE site officials estimate that the long-term
                         monitoring and maintenance required under the Rocky Flats Cleanup
                         Agreement and federal regulations could cost from $20 million to $50
                         million per year. Given that DOE is required to monitor and maintain the
                         site after closure, a DOE site official estimates that stewardship activities
                         through 2040 could cost nearly $1.5 billion.7 However, under the cleanup
                         agreement, DOE must perform monitoring and maintenance “for as long as
                         necessary for the protection of public health, [the] environment, and
                         safety,” so these activities could be required beyond 2040. Long-term
                         maintenance will be required for the diversion dams, holding ponds,
                         closure caps, and other structures that remain on-site. Monitoring of the
                         site’s residual radiological and hazardous contaminants--which could
                         remain dangerous to the public or the environment for thousands of years--
                         could also be required for an indefinite period. The frequent sampling and
                         analysis of groundwater, soil, air, and surface water--required to track
                         conditions at the site--could add substantially to the cost of the site’s
                         stewardship. Specific maintenance and monitoring activities will be set
                         forth in the Department’s record of decision on the final condition of the
                         site.

                         DOE has not determined which, if any, DOE entity will be responsible for
                         the long-term stewardship activities at Rocky Flats. According to DOE
                         officials, the Department may be able to pay another federal, state, or local
                         entity to assume some or all of these activities. In either case, DOE
                         officials said, liability for the site is likely to remain with DOE (or a
                         subsequent federal entity), and the long-term stewardship costs are likely
                         to be borne by taxpayers.




                         7
                           This estimate represents the sum of annual expenditures through 2040 and incorporates a 2.7-percent
                         annual increase for expected inflation.




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Future Workforce and Legal   Although DOE has not estimated the total potential costs for the contractor
Liabilities                  workforce after the site is closed, a site official expected these costs to be
                             substantial—at least $50 million per year—in the first few years after the
                             site's closure and to decrease over time. DOE is developing proposals for
                             retention benefits (to keep contractor employees with critical skills
                             through closure) and separation benefits (to downsize the workforce,
                             when necessary). These proposals may include health care and retirement
                             benefits, incentive pay, and relocation and education benefits. About 2,300
                             of the 3,000 contractor employees could be eligible for separation benefits.

                             In addition, DOE officials expect the Department to face long-term liability
                             for health care costs8 and potential litigation associated with Rocky Flats.
                             DOE may be required to pay certain health care costs, such as health
                             screening for workers exposed to beryllium9 while working on the site.
                             DOE may also face health-related litigation from former workers and
                             perhaps from nearby residents. Finally, DOE may face litigation for
                             damages to property or natural resources10 arising from former activities at
                             the site.



Estimated Savings May        By closing Rocky Flats by the end of 2006 instead of in 2010, DOE expects
                             to save $1.3 billion, primarily by avoiding the costs of operating and
Be Reduced                   maintaining the site for 4 additional years. But if it closes the site later than
                             planned, DOE will not avoid some of these costs--for safeguards and
                             security, building maintenance, and other activities required to keep the
                             site functioning safely—and its savings will be less than expected.

                             In addition, in February 1999, Kaiser-Hill presented a preliminary estimate
                             of the cost of closing the site by the end of 2006.11 According to this cost

                             8
                               These include the costs of workers’ compensation and health surveillance programs that the
                             Department may authorize, such as the current Beryllium Health Surveillance Program.
                             9
                               A low-density metal that was used in manufacturing nonnuclear weapons components at the site,
                             beryllium is highly toxic and can enter the body when dust and fumes are inhaled. Under proposed
                             DOE regulations establishing the Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program, DOE must provide
                             for medical surveillance designed for the early diagnosis of health problems associated with beryllium.
                             Health care costs for job-related illnesses or injuries of current and former Rocky Flats contractor
                             employees are covered by the Colorado State Workers Compensation program.
                             10CERCLA   permits the recovery of damages caused to natural resources, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a).
                             11
                               According to the contractor, it is expected that the detailed plan for closing the site by the end of
                             2006, to be submitted to DOE in late May 1999, will have a total cost estimate of approximately $6.2
                             billion, excluding the cost of operating DOE's Rocky Flats Field Office.




                             Page 64                                     GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
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estimate, the savings from closing the site 4 years earlier would be about
$700 million,12 or about half of DOE’s $1.3 billion savings estimate.

Rocky Flats receives appropriations from the Defense Facilities Closure
Projects account for its cleanup, maintenance, and other ongoing activities.
This arrangement gives DOE site officials more flexibility than they would
otherwise have had to move funding among activities as circumstances and
priorities warrant. Site officials said this flexibility has allowed timely
responses to unanticipated work requirements and changing priorities.
However, only one-third of the site’s total budget is currently devoted to
cleanup activities. The remaining two-thirds is committed to the site’s
basic operations and maintenance. DOE’s plans show these proportions
shifting as building are demolished and the need for basic operations and
maintenasnce decreases.




12
     This savings estimate factors in DOE program funds for operating of the Rocky Flats Field Office.




Page 65                                      GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Appendix I

Comments From the Department of Energy                                   AppenIx
                                                                               di




             Page 66     GAO/RCED-99-100Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Energy




Page 67                           GAO/RCED-99-100Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Energy




Page 68                           GAO/RCED-99-100Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Energy




Page 69                           GAO/RCED-99-100Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report                                                                 AppeInx
                                                                                                        Idi




Resources,             Victor S. Rezendes
                       Glen Trochelman
Community, and         Pamela J. Timmerman
Economic               Robert E. Sánchez
                       Elizabeth R. Eisenstadt
Development Division




                       Page 70                   GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Page 71   GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Related GAO Products


             Nuclear Waste: Corps of Engineers’ Progress in Cleaning Up 22
             Nuclear Sites (GAO/RCED-99-48, Feb. 26, 1999).

             Department of Energy: Management of Excess Property (GAO/RCED-99-3,
             Nov. 4, 1998).

             Nuclear Waste: Further Actions Needed to Increase the Use of Innovative
             Cleanup Technologies (GAO/RCED-98-249, Sept. 25, 1998).

             Department of Energy: Lessons Learned Incorporated Into Performance-
             Based Incentive Contracts (GAO/RCED-98-223, July 29, 1998).

             Department of Energy: Alternative Financing and Contracting Strategies
             for Cleanup Projects (GAO/RCED-98-169, May 29, 1998).

             Department of Energy: Problems and Progress in Managing Plutonium
             (GAO/RCED-98-68, Apr. 17, 1998).

             Results Act: DOE Can Improve Linkages Among Plans and Between
             Resources and Performance (GAO/RCED-98-94, Apr. 14, 1998).

             Department of Energy: Plutonium Needs, Costs, and Management
             Programs (GAO/RCED-97-98, Apr. 17, 1997).

             Department of Energy: Management and Oversight of Cleanup Activities at
             Fernald (GAO/RCED-97-63, Mar. 14, 1997).

             Department of Energy Contract Management (GAO/HR-97-13, Feb. 1997).

             Department of Energy: Value of Benefits Paid to Separated Contractor
             Workforce Varied Widely (GAO/RCED-97-33, Jan. 23, 1997).

             Department of Energy: Contract Reform Is Progressing, but Full
             Implementation Will Take Years (GAO/RCED-97-18, Dec. 10, 1996).

             Nuclear Waste: Uncertainties About Opening Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
             (GAO/RCED-96-146, July 16, 1996).

             Federal Facilities: Consistent Relative Risk Evaluations Needed for
             Prioritizing Cleanups (GAO/RCED-96-150, June 7, 1996).




             Page 72                       GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
Related GAO Products




Nuclear Waste: Greater Use of Removal Actions Could Cut Time and Cost
for Cleanups (GAO/RCED-96-124, May 23, 1996).

Department of Energy: Property Management Has Improved at DOE’s
Rocky Flats Site (GAO/RCED-96-39, Dec. 28, 1995).

Nuclear Waste: Issues Affecting the Opening of DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot
Plant (GAO/T-RCED-95-254, July 21, 1995).

Department of Energy: Savings From Deactivating Facilities Can Be Better
Estimated (GAO/RCED-95-183, July 7, 1995).

Department of Energy: Poor Property Management Allowed Vulnerability
to Theft at Rocky Flats (GAO/OSI-95-4, July 3, 1995).

Radioactive Waste: Status of Commercial Low-Level Waste Facilities
(GAO/RCED-95-67, May 5, 1995).

Department of Energy: National Priorities Needed for Meeting
Environmental Agreements (GAO/RCED-95-1, Mar. 3, 1995).

Nuclear Materials: Plutonium Storage at DOE’s Rocky Flats Plant (GAO/
RCED-95-49, Dec. 29, 1994).

Nuclear Waste: Change in Test Strategy Sound, but DOE Overstated
Savings (GAO/RCED-95-44, Dec. 27, 1994).

Managing DOE: Government Property Worth Millions of Dollars Is Missing
(GAO/T-RCED-94-309, Sept. 19, 1994).

Nuclear Health and Safety: Consensus on Acceptable Radiation Risk to the
Public Is Lacking (GAO/RCED-94-190, Sept. 19, 1994).

Nuclear Cleanup: Completion of Standards and Effectiveness of Land Use
Planning Are Uncertain (GAO/RCED-94-144, Aug. 26, 1994).

Department of Energy: Status of DOE’s Property Management Program
(GAO/RCED-94-154FS, Apr. 7, 1994).

Department of Energy: The Property Management System at the Rocky
Flats Plant Is Inadequate (GAO/RCED-94-77, Mar. 1, 1994).




Page 73                       GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
                   Related GAO Products




                   Nuclear Science: Developing Technology to Reduce Radioactive Waste
                   May Take Decades and Be Costly (GAO/RCED-94-16, Dec. 10, 1993).

                   Nuclear Materials: Removing Plutonium Residues From Rocky Flats Will
                   Be Difficult and Costly (GAO/RCED-92-219, Sept. 4, 1992).




(141188)   Leter   Page 74                     GAO/RCED-99-100 Accelerated Closure of Rocky Flats
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