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Audit Report: OAS-L-13-09

May 28, 2013

The Office of Environmental Management's Disposition of Transuranic Waste

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the Department of Energy's (Department) underground repository for contact-handled and remote-handled transuranic waste.  The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Land Withdrawal Act limits its total capacity for transuranic waste to 175,600 cubic meters (m³), of which no more than 7,080 m³ can be remote-handled waste.  In October 1999, the New Mexico Environment Department granted a Hazardous Waste Facility Permit to the Department to begin storage and disposal of TRU waste, although remote-handled disposal did not commence until 2007. 

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, the Office of Environmental Management (EM) established a strategic goal, in addition to operational goals, to complete disposition of 90 percent of the Department's legacy transuranic waste by the end of FY 2015.  While EM is also responsible for the transuranic waste that the Department continues to generate, newly generated waste is not specifically included in the strategic goal.  To achieve the 90 percent goal, EM needed to dispose of approximately 40,000 m³ of waste, or an average of 8,000 m³ per year.  The planned annual metric was reduced to 6,000 m³ for FY 2012 and 4,500 m³ for FY 2013 because of funding limitations. 

We found that while EM had made progress in meeting its operational disposal goals, it was not on track to meet its goal to dispose of 90 percent of the Department's legacy transuranic waste by the end of FY 2015.  In particular, EM faces a number of challenges in meeting its planned 90 percent waste disposal goal by 2015.  Additionally, without further modifications to the repository or existing waste disposal practices, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant may not have capacity for disposal of the current remote-handled inventory.  EM has identified alternative actions to alleviate the challenges facing the transuranic waste disposition program.

TOPIC:  Environmental Cleanup