oversight

Correcting Environmental Problems Facing the Nuclear Weapons Complex

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-05-17.

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

                   United States General Accounting   Office    /fii!b           L-7
                   Testimony

                                                            IllIllIIll1
                                                               141612
                                                                     lllll
For Delivery on     Correcting Environmental
May 17, 1990        Problems Facing the
                    Nuclear Weapons Complex




                    Statement   for the Record
                    of Victor   S. Rezendes
                    Director,   Energy Issues
                    Resources,    Community,  and Economic
                       Development   Division
                    Before the
                    Committee on Environment          and
                    Public Works
                    United States Senate




GAO/T-RCED-90-85
                                                                         GAO   Fom     180w/87)
Mr . Chairman               and Members of               the       Committee:


          t;e are pleased               to submit            for        the      record         this      statement            which
provides           an overview            of      the    Department                of    Energy's           (DOE) efforts               to
correct        the      environmental                problems             facing         the      nuclear          weapons
complex.            To assist           in your          deliberations                   on ways to ensure                     that
DOE's environmental                     corrective              actions            are        adequately           funded       and
effectively            managed,           my testimony                  will       cover        three      major        points.


          First,        the weapons               complex          faces         a wide         variety       of       serious         and
costly        environmental              problems.                 These         include          the     need to upgrade
facilities            so that          they       comply        with           environmental              standards,
decontaminate                and decommission                   unused           facilities,              dispose        of
radioactive            wastes          that       have been             stored          for     decades,           and clean           up
contaminated                groundwater            and soil.                   The cost         to address             these
environmental                problems            is staggering--                 ranging         over      $100 billion.
Further,           because       the      full       scope         of     the     problems              is not      known,
future        costs         may be greater               as more is                learned         about         the    nature         and
extent        of contamination.                      In the            final       analysis,             some areas            of     the
weapons        complex          may be irreversibly                            contaminated              and thus        may
require        long-term             institutional                 control.


          Second,           during      the       past    year,           DOE has made some important
changes        to     its     organization               that          should       help        change       its       management
focus        from     one that          emphasized              materials               production          to one that
more" clearly               focuses      on environmental                        concerns.              We have         long

                                                                   1
pointed             out   that        such a change                       in focus        is needed.                  DOE must now
keep this              focus        for         decades           as it        works      to address                 the wide-
ranging             environmental                     problems          of     the weapons              complex.


          And finally,                    it         is generally              recognized              that     the     resolution            of
DOE's environmental                             problems           will        require          the     nation         to dedicate
substantial               resources                   during       a budget          deficit            era.          Therefore,         it
is     imperative              that            DOE has internal                  controls              in place         to ensure
that      resources              are           spent         effectively           in carrying                 out     its
environmental                  and waste                 management             programs.               This     has not           always
been the             case      in     the            past.       More specifically,                       to successfully
carry         out     these         programs,                 DOE must have an effective                               management
system         and internal                     controls           to ensure             that


         --     priorities                     for      funding       are       identified              to     address        the more
                    serious         environmental                   problems            and these              problems        receive
                sufficient                 funding;


         --     funds         allocated                  to cleanup             and waste             management             are
                effectively                     managed and spent;                     and


         --     continued              emphasis                 is placed         on developing                  and maintaining
                a cultural                 commitment               to resolving                 the     environmental
                problems              confronting                 the         weapons      complex.




                                                                          2
          Over the       past        years,     we have            issued         a series        of     reports
addressing        these         issues        (see attachment                   I).     The remainder              of my
testimony       will      address         these         points       in more detail.


DOE'S ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS


          In making       nuclear         weapons,           enormous            amounts       of hazardous              and
radioactive           wastes      are generated.                    Historically,                this     waste      either
was disposed            of by methods               that     allowed            the    waste      to enter         the
environment           or-was         stored     until        more permanent                disposal
alternatives            were developed.                    As a result,               DOE now faces            formidable
environmental            problems.             In this           regard,         our work         over      the past
several       years      has described               a variety             of    serious       unresolved
problems,       which       include           the    following:


       --     More than          3,500        inactive           waste      sites       throughout           the     complex
              need to be cleaned                    up.


       --     Groundwater             at DOE sites               is contaminated               with       hazardous
              and/or      radioactive               material,            some at        levels          hundreds      to
              thousands         of     times        above        the drinking            water          standards.


       --     There      are difficulties                   in maintaining               compliance           with
              various       environmental                  laws.




                                                             3
           --   Delays         have occurred           in DOE's multibillion                       dollar        effort
                to put         transuranic          waste1       in    the Waste              Isolation         Pilot
                Plant      in New Mexico.


           --   Some transuranic               waste     at DOE sites                  that     will      not    go to the
                Waste      Isolation         Pilot      Plant.


           --   There      are difficulties              in finding               a geological               repository
                site     for     the disposal           of high-level                  waste.


           --   Some single-shell               tanks      at     Hanford,             Washington,            have      leaked
                or are         suspected       of    leaking          high-level              radioactive          waste
                into     the     environment.


           Our analysis           of DOE data           shows that           it        may cost         over     $100
billion2          to address         environmental              problems           of     the     weapons        complex.
This       includes        $35 billion          to     $65 billion           to restore                the     environment
at     inactive         sites,      $30 billion          to dispose               of    radioactive             wastes,
$15 billion             to decontaminate              and decommission                   unused         facilities,
and $3 billion                 to $9 billion          to bring          facilities              into      compliance
with       environmental            laws.



lTransuranic     waste is material  contaminated    with                                        man-made elements
heavier    than uranium.   This material    is generally                                         radioactively
long-lived     and toxic.
2Thes*e estimates    are not of budget quality     and should be used only
to illustrate     the magnitude of the problem.       The information was
derived    from DOE data in 1990 constant    dollars.
                                                           4
           Because              the     full      magnitude             of     the    environmental                       problems                 is
not    known at many DOE sites,                                  the        costs      to address                    these       problems
are    likely             to     increase.            In this               regard,      DOE is                 in the         early             phases
of characterizing                         its     environmental                 problems.                   Our experience                         in
evaluating                the     Superfund           Program               administered                  by     the      Environmental
Protection                Agency          (EPA) indicates                    that     the      less             that      is known about
the    extent         of         contamination,                  the more likely                     it         is     that      the         cost
estimates           will          increase          as the problem                    is addressed.                           Finally,              DOE,
is beginning                    to modernize              its     nuclear            weapons              complex.               It         is
critical           that          environmental                  issues        be addressed                      early         in DOE's
modernization                    process          to avoid             delays        and unnecessary                          cost,          and
that       the     full          cost      implications                 of modernization                         decisions              be
recognized.


DOE'S EFFORTS TO ORGANIZE ITSELF
FOR ADDRESSING ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS


           As we have pointed                       out         in our        reports          and testimonies,                              the
seriousness                of     DOE's environmental                         problems          was compounded                          by a
management            attitude                  in DOE that             emphasized             the         production                  of
nuclear          materials               over      environmental,                    safety,          and health                  concerns.
During       the      past            year,       DOE has acted                 to change                 its        management                  focus
toward       environmental                      problems.               These changes                     include             programmatic
restructuring                   within          DOE, the          issuance            of a S-year                      plan      for
environmental                   restoration           and waste                 management,                     and efforts                  to make
cont+ractors              more accountable                       for        these     problems.

                                                                        5
           To focus             its     management            on environmental                     problems,            DOE has
established               an Office            of Environmental                    Restoration               and
Waste Management                       to consolidate                environmental                 cleanup,          compliance,
and waste            management             activities.                   It    has also           restructured              its
budgeting            system            to reflect           the creation                 of this       office           by
establishing                separate           budget         accounts            for     these      activities.                   This
reorganization,                       in our view,           provides            a framework               for      establishing
the       clear      line        of     responsibility                  needed          to carry       out        the    cleanup
effort.            Its      success,           however,            will        depend       on many factors,
including            DOE's continuing                   commitment               over       the     next         several      decades
to correct               environmental              problems.


           DOE also             issued      in August              1989 an Environmental                          Restoration
and haste            Management             Five-Year              Plan,        which       outlines             a multibillion
dollar          effort          over     the    next        5 years            (fiscal       years         1991 through
1995)       to     (1)      begin        bringing           its     facilities              into     compliance              with
environmental                   laws,      (2) begin              cleaning         up environmental
contamination,                   and     (3) effectively                   manage the wide                  variety          of
radioactive               and hazardous              wastes             that     DOE generates.                    We believe
the      plan      is an important                  first          step        in beginning            to outline             an
approach           for      cleaning           up DOE facilities                        and bringing              DOE operations
into       compliance             with      environmental                  laws.          DOE plans              to update          this
plan       in     June      1990.



           DOE has also                 undertaken           efforts            to make its            contractors                more
accotintable              for     environmental                   and safety             matters.           In October              1989

                                                                    6
we issued                reports      and testified                  that         the      DOE award           fee process
needs       to be restructured                        so that         it         accurately           reflects          the
contractor's                 performance              regarding                 environmental            and safety
matters.                 DOE is      restructuring               the process                  by,     among other               things,
having        headquarters                  review      and concur                  in all          awards      and requiring
that       environmental,                   safety,       and health                 matters          be weighted               at
least       51 percent               in the         evaluation                  process       for     awards.           These
changes,            if     properly          implemented,                  should          increase          the    contractor's
sensitivity                to and performance                   regarding                  environmental               compliance
and safety               matters.


           These actions               are         important          steps              in creating          an organization
and management                     system     with      the capability                      to effectively                plan,
implement,               and oversee               environmental                  corrective           actions.            We
believe        it         is wise      that         DOE is      taking              the     time      now to better
organize            itself          to manage the              environmental                      restoration           and waste
management               effort.            This      managerial                 restructuring               will      likely
continue            this      year     as DOE changes                      its     culture           and strives            to
acquire        the         necessary          expertise           to effectively                      deal      with      the
problems.                DOE will        also         have to maintain                      these       initiatives              over
the     longterm             because         DOE believes                  it     will      take      30 years          to clean
up environmental                     contamination              at         its      facilities.




                                                                  7
CONCERNSABOUT DOE EFFORTS TO
ADDRESS ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS


        While      recognizing            the     changes        DOE has recently                   made to        improve
its    management,            I would      like      to discuss               some overall           concerns        that
we have about              DOE's future           management            of     its   environmental
restoration           and waste         management            effort.           As DOE begins             to
implement        an enormously             costly        program,            we believe          that,      in view         of
its    past     problems,         it     needs      to be especially                 attentive           to ensuring
over    the     longterm        that


        --    priorities          for     funding        are     identified           to     address       the more
              serious        environmental              problems         and that           these     projects
              receive        sufficient           funding;


        --    funds        allocated       to addressing                the     problems         are effectively
              managed and spent;                  and


        --    continued         emphasis          is placed         on developing               and maintaining
              a cultural          commitment            to resolve             the   environmental                problems
              confronting          the     complex.


        Today,        DOE does not          have a formal                system       for      setting         funding
priorities         that      is generally           accepted            by those       affected           by this
cleanup,       such as states              where        DOE facilities               are     located.             DOE
recobnizes         the      importance          of a system             to set       funding         priorities          for

                                                          8
its      environmental                problems             that         includes             the         views         of    affected
parties.            In its        5-year            plan,         DOE states                 its         intention            to develop                  a
priority           system        that        incorporates                    the      views         of      state           and tribal
groups1           EPA, and the public,                           with        independent                  technical             review              by
the National              Academy of                Sciences.                  According                 to DOE officials,
DOE's objective                  is     to have a new priority                                system             operational,                   at
least       on a trial            basis,            for     the         fiscal         year         1992 budget.


           We also       believe             that         in order             to develop                 and maintain                   a
national          consensus             and commitment,                        as well             as to avoid                past
problems,           DOE must have                   the     necessary                 internal             controls             in place                 to
effectively             manage and spend                         funds         allocated             to correcting
environmental              problems.                 In this                regard,        the           level         of environmental
funding        should        be commensurate                       with          DOE's ability                    to ensure                  that
funds       are     used efficiently                       for     their           intended               purposes.                 Adequate
DOE: oversight              is especially                   important,                 given         the         fact        that        DOE
relies        heavily        on contractors                       to carry             out         a large          part        of       its
activities.


           Shortcomings               in DOE's oversight                           programs               have been a
continuing           management               problem.                  We have          issued            numerous             reports
identifying             persistent             problems                 with       internal               and external
oversight          of DOE's facilities.                                 Similarly,                 the     Secretary                of       Energy,
upon taking             office          in    1989,         determined                 that         DOE's existing
oversight          system         for        environmental,                      safety,            and health                matters               was
a failure.              More recently,                    on December                  28,         1989,         the        Secretary               of

                                                                        9
Energy           reported         to     the      President           and the          Congress         that      DOE has
several           material             internal          control        weaknesses            that      could      affect
DOE's environmental                        efforts.            These weaknesses                    include        contract
management             that           needs    improvements                 in DOE's oversight                  of contracts
to ensure             the     work performed                  is acceptable                 and in compliance                     with
laws       and regulations.                       The Secretary               also      reported         to the
President             that      DOE's programs                 are being             severely          affected         by
staffing           inadequacies                in critical              areas        such as environmental
programs           and contract                management.


           Finally,           we believe              DOE needs             to continue            to develop           and,         once
established,                 maintain          a culture           committed             to resolving             the
environmental                 problems            that       confront         the weapons              complex.           For
decades,           DOE and its                predecessor             agencies          worked         under      a culture
that       stressed           production.                 The Secretary                of    Energy,       as part           of his
new management                   focus,        is attempting                 to change          this     culture          and
increase           DOE's sensitivity                      to environmental                   matters.           However,             such
changes           must       filter        down through               all     levels         of DOE, including                     its
contractors.                  Once DOE achieves                    this       cultural          commitment           to
environmental                 matters,            DOE management                will        have     to maintain             it
throughout             the       3 decades            that      the     current          Secretary         has set           as a
goal       for     cleaning             up the        complex.




                                                                   10
SUMMARY


           In summary,                   the     environmental             problems       facing       DOE's nuclear
weapons          complex             are       enormous          and will       take     decades         to resolve.
Widespread                 environmental                 contamination           exists         at many DOE sites                    and
the      full         extent         of     the     environmental             problems          is not      known.


          During            the      past        year,     DOE has taken               a number of steps                  to
better          deal        with         these      problems,            including       an organizational
restructuring                  to better             focus        on environmental              problems.                Such
actions          are        important              as DOE develops              an organization              and
management                 system         with      the capability              to effectively              plan,
implement,                 and oversee              corrective            actions.        We believe              it     is wise
that      DOE takes                the      time     now to properly                 organize      itself              to manage
the      long-term             program             needed        to address          the many environmental
problems              it    faces.


          To successfully                        carry     out     its     environmental           restoration                 and
waste       management                programs,            DOE must have an effective                        management
system          to ensure             that         the most        serious       environmental              problems            are
identified                 and adequately                 funded         and that      funds      allocated              to
correcting                 environmental                 problems         are effectively           spent.
Furthermore,                 the      seriousness             and long-term             nature      of      the         task    ahead
makes continued                     oversight             by DOE necessary              to ensure           that         a long-
term commitment                     to acceptable                 environmental           practices          is maintained
within          the        nuclear         weapons         complex.           We will       continue         our

                                                                    11
assessments             of    DOE's activities      and plan   to focus   our   attention
during      the    coming         year   on evaluating    DOE's management      systems,
including         its        oversight    of contractor    operations.




                                                   12
ATTACHMENT I                                                                                     ATTACHMENT I

                                       GAO REPORTS RELATED TO
                         ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS OF DOE OPERATIONS
Need for Improved             Responsiveness                 to Problems      at DOE Sites
(GAO/RCED-90-101,             Mar. 1~990) .
Efforts  to Improve             DOE's Management                 of    the Nuclear      Weapons Complex
(GAO/T-RCED-90-64,              Mar. 19901.
GAO's Views on DOE's 1991 Budget for Addressing                                      Problems      at    the
Nuclear Weapons Complex (GAO/T-RCED-90-33,   Mar.                                    1990).
GAO's Views on DOE's Environmental                             Restoration       and Waste Management
Five-Year  Plan (GAO/T-RCED-90-16,                            Nov. 1989).
DOE's Award Fees at Rocky Flats Do Not Adequately                                      Reflect      ES&H
Problems (GAO/RCED-90-47, Oct. 1989).
Policy     Implications   of Funding DOE's K-Reactor                            COOlin9          Tower
Project      (GAO/RCED-89-212,  Sept. 1989).
DOE's Management             of Sinqle-Shell                 Tanks     at Hanford,      Washington
(GAO/RCED-89-157,             July 1989).
Environmental            Problems          in    the Nuclear          Weapons Complex        (GAO/T-RCED-
89-18,  Apr.       1989).

Problems      Associated            With        DOE's Inactive          Waste Sites       (GAO/RCED-88-
169,   Aug.     1988).

Dealing With Problems                 in the Nuclear Defense Complex Expected                              to
Cost Over $100 Billion                  (GAO/RCED-88-197BR, July 1988).
Environmental  Funding:   DOE Needs to Better                                Identify    Funds for
Hazardous Waste Compliance   (GAO/RCED-88-62,                                Dec. 1987).
Environmental,   Safety,  and Health                          Oversiqht      of DOE's Operations
(GAO/T-RCED-87-12,    Mar. 1987).
Environmental,            Safety,      and Health Aspects                 of DOE's Nuclear              Defense
CPRCED-87-4,                              Mar. 1987).
Nuclear Waste:    Unresolved  Issues Concerning Hanford's                                       Waste
Management Practices    (GAO/RCED-87-30, Nov. 1986).
Nuclear Energy:   Environmental                       Issues at DOE's Nuclear                   Defense
Facil'ities (GAO/RCED-86-192,                       Sept. 1986).

                                                        13