December 16, 2011

Waste Disposal and Recovery Act Efforts at the Oak Ridge Reservation

The Department of Energy (Department) expends billions of dollars to clean up contaminated sites and dispose of hazardous waste.  The Department's Oak Ridge Office (ORO) is responsible for processing and disposing of the Transuranic (TRU) waste on the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR), including approximately 3,500 cubic meters of legacy remote-handled (RH) and contact-handled (CH) TRU waste from more than 50 years of energy research and weapons production.  The ORR was selected to receive $755 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) funds, of which $143.5 million was allocated for the Transuranic Waste Processing Center (TWPC) in Lenoir City, Tennessee.  The Department selected the TWPC project for Recovery Act funding because it was deemed to be "shovel-ready" and was set for immediate implementation.  Our inspection did not identify significant issues with the use of Recovery Act funds.  However, we noted that the TWPC project, although initially thought to be “shovel-ready,” encountered a number of obstacles in processing and disposing of ORR's TRU waste.  Because of technical problems, including significant ground water infiltration in RH waste storage casks, the TWPC project was behind schedule and at risk of not achieving its accelerated waste disposal goals.  In response, Department officials initiated a number of program changes designed to ensure that new, realistic TRU waste processing goals are developed and achieved.  We believe that ORO’s planned actions, if successfully implemented, should help mitigate the schedule issues we identified.  Therefore, we have no further recommendations for corrective action and a formal response is not required.  We do, however, suggest that management closely monitor implementation of planned actions.

Topic: Environmental Cleanup