NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Energy Department Mismanagement

October 24, 1997

A new report roundly criticizes the Department of Energy for rushing into nuclear waste projects before doing the necessary homework. The study, by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, is based largely on government documents.

  • The organization charges that DOE spent $50 million on a nuclear waste processing plant in Ohio that was supposed to cost only $16 million.
  • Even before it could handle radioactive materials, the heart of the plant was destroyed in an accident because of poor planning, the IEER report states.
  • It said a subcontractor chose metal pipes that were destroyed in a test run with a nonradioactive waste substitute -- even though it was well known in the industry that the type of metal used could not withstand lead, which was present in the waste and the substitute.
  • Employees at the plant had pointed out the problems before the accident, but no one in authority took notice, according to the report.

The accident involved a machine that was designed to take radioactive wastes and melt them into chunks of glass. During the nonradioactive test, a "bubbler tube" that was to help stir the wastes in a melting pot was eaten away by lead -- causing the molten mixture to leak out.

The study accuses the DOE of routinely putting production of nuclear weapons fuel ahead of safety and environmental considerations, until production of fuel ceased in the late 1980s.

Overall, the report said, despite having spent $35 billion nationwide for cleanup since 1989, the department still lacks a good plan and a management system for reducing environmental risk after 50 years of bomb production.

Source: Matthew L. Wald, "Report Faults Energy Department on Managing Nuclear Waste," New York Times, October 24, 1997.


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