1990-05-23 GAO – The Military Would Benefit From a Comprehensive Waste Disposal Program

Senator John Glen requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s oversight of the Department of Defense’s use, handling, and disposal of radioactive material. The GAO found that no comprehensive DOD waste disposal program exists, and none of the three services knows the full extent of its low-level radioactive waste disposal problems. As a result, DOD leaves itself open to errors and problems that could lead to adverse publicity and criticism. Throughout the 198Os, the Army and Air Force had, on occasion, been banned from disposal sites for failing to comply with federal and state requirements.


Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO compared the Army’s, Navy’s, and Air Force’s low-level radioactive waste disposal practices.

GAO found that: (1) the Department of Defense (DOD) lacked a comprehensive waste disposal program; (2) none of the three services had complete information on the amounts or types of low-level radioactive waste generated or disposed of; (3) the Navy lacked a low-level radioactive waste disposal program, while the Air Force participated in the Army’s disposal program; (4) the services’ stockpiling of waste, pending long-term disposal at three commercial sites, increased the potential for accidental releases of waste similar to that which occurred at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in 1986; (5) commercial sites have periodically banned the Army and the Air Force for failure to comply with federal and state waste packaging and shipping requirements; (6) compliance problems could worsen after 1993, when there could be as many as 16 different interstate compact and state disposal requirements; (7) significant differences existed among and within the services regarding waste disposal management expertise and training, volume-reduction techniques, and use of cost-effective methods; (8) commercial sites’ surcharges and penalties resulted in DOD paying almost twice the actual cost of waste disposal; and (9) two of the three commercial sites will close by December 1992, increasing the likelihood that DOD will store waste or seek exemptions to dispose of waste outside each generator’s region if no other sites become available.


Recommendations for Executive Action

1) Recommendation: To ensure that all DOD installations appropriately manage and dispose of low-level radioactive waste and reduce the potential for another incident similar to the one at Wright-Patterson AFB, the Secretary of Defense should develop a strategy for dealing with low-level waste after 1992, including working with other federal agencies, compacts, and states to determine the feasibility of dedicating a portion of one or more sites for the government’s use. In those discussions, DOD should ensure that low-level radioactive waste generated overseas would be accepted for disposal.

Agency Affected: Department of Defense

Status: Closed – Implemented

Comments: DOD concurred except that it disagreed with the idea of developing a single low-level waste disposal facility for DOD wastes. DOD does not intend to act on that part of the recommendation. It is, however, developing an alternative strategy for disposing of low-level radioactive waste after 1992.


2) Recommendation: To ensure that all DOD installations appropriately manage and dispose of low-level radioactive waste and reduce the potential for another incident similar to the one at Wright-Patterson AFB, the Secretary of Defense should require all DOD installations to institute consistent waste minimization and treatment techniques.

Agency Affected: Department of Defense

Status: Closed – Implemented

Comments: DOD partially concurred. DOD recognized the value of consistent procedures, but also stated that provisions for local flexibility should be provided to ensure optimization of waste disposal. The Army, as the designated DOD agent for low-level waste disposal, will establish service-wide procedures for waste handling, and the other services will establish procedures consistent with their permits.


3) Recommendation: To ensure that all DOD installations appropriately manage and dispose of low-level radioactive waste and reduce the potential for another incident similar to the one at Wright-Patterson AFB, the Secretary of Defense should develop an inventory of the amounts and types of low-level radioactive waste that are stored or buried at all installations.

Agency Affected: Department of Defense

Status: Closed – Implemented

Comments: DOD partially concurred. DOD agreed that an inventory of low-level waste should be made, but not by the Secretary of Defense. The individual military services are inventorying their respective wastes. The information will be developed on an installation-by-installation basis since funding for this activity is provided at the service manager level rather than centrally funded at DOD’s level.


 

4) Recommendation: To ensure that all DOD installations appropriately manage and dispose of low-level radioactive waste and reduce the potential for another incident similar to the one at Wright-Patterson AFB, the Secretary of Defense should establish uniform policies and procedures for the program and institute a mechanism to ensure compliance throughout DOD with the requirements.

Agency Affected: Department of Defense

Status: Closed – Implemented

Comments: DOD concurred and stated that uniform guidance on radiation problems will be developed. The U.S. Army handbook has been revised and will serve as the basis for DOD-wide procedures. A comprehensive DOD environmental instruction has been developed that will address low-level radioactive waste disposal. The instruction established uniform policy for radioactive waste minimization and disposal.


 

5) Recommendation: To ensure that all DOD installations appropriately manage and dispose of low-level radioactive waste and reduce the potential for another incident similar to the one at Wright-Patterson AFB, the Secretary of Defense should establish a comprehensive low-level radioactive waste disposal program at a high departmental level.

Agency Affected: Department of Defense

Status: Closed – Implemented

Comments: The Department of Energy (DOE) concurred and assigned responsibility for radiation programs, including management of low-level waste disposal, to the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Environment).


6) Recommendation: To ensure that all DOD installations appropriately manage and dispose of low-level radioactive waste and reduce the potential for another incident similar to the one at Wright-Patterson AFB, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that low-level radioactive waste generated overseas will be accepted for disposal at one or more dedicated sites after 1992.

Agency Affected: Department of Defense

Status: Closed – Not Implemented

Comments: DOD did not concur on the basis that its existing practice of treating waste generated overseas as having been generated in the state where the waste enters the United States was acceptable to states, federal agencies, and Congress.

View Report (PDF, 51 pages)

 

I am not a doctor or attorney, and cannot give medical advice or legal advice.

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