Department of EnergyAccelerated Closure of Rocky Flats: Status and Obstacles Gao ID: RCED-99-100 April 30, 1999
The Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site stopped making plutonium components for nuclear weapons in 1989, leaving the Department of Energy (DOE) with the challenge of managing and cleaning up nearly 40 years' worth of contamination. 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. Partly because of high maintenance costs, DOE developed plans in 1994 to clean up and close Rocky Flats. This report provides information on (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. GAO found that it is questionable whether DOE and its contractor, Kaiser-Hill, can meet the agency's target date of 2006 for cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats at the costs and savings originally projected. Also, DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Colorado have agreed, in general, on the condition of the site when it is closed. However, many specific decisions still must be made. The costs of cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats could be higher than DOE's official estimate of $7.3 billion for fiscal year 1997 through fiscal year 2010.
GAO noted that: (1) while DOE and the Kaiser-Hill Company have had some success in accelerating cleanup activities, it is questionable whether they can meet DOE's target date of 2006 for cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats at the costs and savings originally projected; (2) 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; (3) 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; (4) 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; (5) DOE and Kaiser-Hill must overcome various challenges to accelerate key activities to close the site by the end of 2006; (6) while plans for closing the site depend on other organizations within and outside DOE to take the site's materials and wastes for storage or disposal, several types of materials and wastes have no sites available to take them; (7) DOE and Kaiser-Hill officially maintain that the contractor can close the site by the end of 2006; (8) DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Colorado have agreed on the condition of the site when it is closed; (9) nevertheless, many specific decisions still must be made; (10) 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; (11) 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; (12) the costs of cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats could be higher than DOE's official estimate; (13) although DOE has not validated the accuracy of the estimate, DOE and contractor site managers maintain that the site can be closed for $7.3 billion; (14) the contractor's 1998 detailed cost estimate, based on the costs of specific projects needed to close the site, totalled $8.4 billion; (15) these estimates do not include the costs that will be incurred after the site is closed; (16) 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; and (17) if the cleanup and closure can be accelerated, health and safety risks may be reduced and financial benefits may be achieved.