Feds lack plans to clean up toxic nuclear production & research sites

The agency that oversees long-term surveillance and maintenance at more than 100 former nuclear weapons production and energy research sites has no plan for how to address challenges at locations that require new cleanup work outside the scope of the office’s expertise and resources.

That is one conclusion from a GAO report that panned the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DOD) for failing to make improvements based on previous reviews and continuing to ignore the demand for safety.

“The federal government’s environmental liability is vast and growing, and a number of agencies—especially the Departments of Energy and Defense, which bear the bulk of this liability—need to address environmental risks, and monitor and report on this liability,” said the GAO report.

The agency said that previous recommendations have not been heeded by the departments as both DOE and DOD “have stalled in their efforts to focus more attention on their environmental liabilities.”

The Defense Department has failed to address critical issues concerning the clean-up of contamincated toxic nuclear production facilities.

“Specifically, in the past 5 years, we have made 28 recommendations to DOE related to addressing and reducing its environmental liability, such as analyzing the root causes of its growing liability,” said the GAO. “DOE has yet to implement 26 of these 28 recommendations.”

Although DOE’s Office of Environmental Management developed a strategic vision for the next decade of cleanup activities in 2020, it has not developed an approach to cleanup based on factors like cost and the risks to human health or the environment.

DOE also has yet to develop a method for tracking changes to its cleanup agreement requirements, as the GAO recommended in February 2019.

The GAO also said that the DOD Inspector General found in November 2020, that the Pentagon is unable to develop accurate estimates and account for environmental liabilities in accordance with accounting practices.

“Specifically, the Inspector General reported that DOD (1) is unable to substantiate the completeness and amount of its environmental liability estimate; and (2) has insufficient policies, procedures, and supporting documentation for developing and supporting its cost estimates, among other things,” the GAO said.

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