Nuclear Waste

Corps of Engineers' Progress in Cleaning Up 22 Nuclear Sites Gao ID: RCED-99-48 February 26, 1999

The Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program was created in the mid-1970s to clean up radiological contamination resulting from the early development of nuclear weapons. The Department of Energy (DOE) ran the program until October 1997, when responsibility for the program was transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The program now consists of 22 sites and was funded at $140 million in both fiscal years 1998 and 1999. This report discusses (1) the Corps' cost and schedule estimates for cleaning up program sites; (2) the Corps' progress in meeting milestones for site cleanups, program staffing levels, and environmental document preparation; and (3) the transition of the program from DOE to the Corps.

GAO noted that: (1) when the Corps took over the program, it reviewed DOE's cost and schedule estimates for the 22 sites, visited the sites, and developed new cost and schedule estimates for each; (2) the Corps' cost estimates, in total, are higher than estimates previously developed by DOE; (3) the Corps estimated that it would cost up to $2.25 billion and would take until after 2004 to complete cleanup at all sites; (4) however, there is potential for the $2.25 billion estimate to increase in the future because no proven technology is available to clean up one site and characterization is incomplete for others; (5) DOE had estimated that it would cost up to $1.5 billion and would take until as late as 2006 to complete the cleanup; (6) an examination of the individual cost estimates, however, shows that much of the difference between DOE's and the Corps' estimates can be attributed to two sites where new information became available after the program was transferred or the scope of the cleanup alternatives was changed; (7) since the program was transferred to the Corps in October 1997, the Corps has achieved or exceeded its milestones for planned cleanup activities at 16 of the 22 sites; (8) the Corps did not achieve one or more of its milestones at five sites, and one site did not have any milestones for fiscal year (FY) 1998; (9) to accomplish its goals for the program, in FY 1998, the Corps had 71 full-time equivalents involved in program management and support; (10) in regard to completing the environmental documentation necessary to begin removal and remedial work, the Corps has made considerable progress, including issuing two Records of Decision and five Engineering Evaluation/Cost Assessments that provide detailed plans for site cleanups; (11) during the program's transition from DOE to the Corps, the Corps established transition teams and worked with departmental officials to transfer the 22 sites; (12) when the program was transferred, several issues remained unresolved; (13) only one issue remains to be formally resolved, specifically, which agency should be accountable for property management for the sites while they are in the program; and (14) attempts to resolve this issue through negotiation of a memorandum of understanding between the Corps and DOE are ongoing.

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