October 23, 2014

Management of Long-Term Surveillance and Maintenance of Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 Title II Sites

The Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 was enacted to minimize radiation health hazards to the public.  Title II of the act covers uranium mill sites that held a license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Commission) or host states on or after January 1, 1978.  Title II sites, which are uranium mill sites that were commercially owned and operated, are to be cleaned up at the expense of the mill operators, closed and then transferred to the Department of Energy's (Department) Office of Legacy Management (Legacy Management). Prior to site closure, the Commission assesses a surveillance charge to each mill operator to cover the costs of long-term surveillance and maintenance of the site. Legacy Management currently manages 6 Title II sites and anticipates eventually managing the remaining 21 sites that are scheduled to be closed by the mill operators. Given the Department's future obligation to manage Title II sites and the potentially significant cost of doing so, we performed this audit to determine whether the Department had effectively managed its long-term surveillance and maintenance of Title II sites.

We identified opportunities for the Department to improve its administration of the long-term surveillance and maintenance costs of its Title II sites. Specifically, we found that the Department's costs for long-term surveillance and maintenance of its Title II sites exceeded revenue available from mill operator assessments. Legacy Management's costs during Fiscal Years 2010 through 2012 for long-term surveillance and control activities at the six sites it managed exceeded revenue by $4.1 million. Additionally, Legacy Management spent $1.1 million for pre-transfer activities at other Title II sites that are not yet under its control and for which no provision exists for mill operators to cover the costs. Recognizing these challenges, Legacy Management has taken certain steps to address the issues associated with site transfers; however, further work is needed. Therefore, we suggested the Director for Legacy Management continue working with the Commission regarding the cost of activities to be included in the surveillance charge.

Topic: Management & Administration