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6 years remedial action has been taken at only 315 locations, leaving about 385 more to be done.
As a result of the subcommittee's recent request, we identified a number of problems that have impeded the successful completion of the Grand Junction program. First and foremost, the managers of the program have been unable to fully plan for the needed remedial actions, primarily because the program is voluntary. Property owners have to apply for assistance before the total number of locations and estimated costs can be determined. Second, the program is having considerable difficulty in getting enough contractors to do the cleanup work because they appear to be more interested in doing other work.
MATTERS FOR CONSIDERATION BY THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY
AND POWER AND THE CONGRESS
We recommend that the Congress endorse legislation which would have the Federal Government take the lead in cleaning up the uranium milltailings at the inactive mill sites. We believe the Federal Government has a moral responsibility to provide this assistance. Further, the Federal Government is the only organization with the ability to undertake the cleanup on a comprehensive basis.
The Congress should make clear, however, that this is a unique situation, and establishes no precedent for the Federal Government assuming the financial responsibility of cleaning up other nuclear facilities and wastes.
We also recommend that the subcommittee take steps to amend the proposed legislation to:
Put a time limit on when the sites must be cleaned up;
Require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with assistance from the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, to report to the Congress on the need, and adequacy of plans, to clean up milltailings sites excluded by the legislation, and to make recommendations, if needed, for additional legislation or executive branch actions to insure the cleanup of all sites;
Require either Federal or State ownership of all lands on which milltailings are to be placed for long-term stabilization;
Specify the types of costs to be included in the program and those to be borne by the States and by the Federal Government; and
Improve congressional control over the program by: (1) Requiring the Department of Energy to periodically report to the Congress on the progress of the cleanup program; (2) require annual authorization and appropriation of funds for the program; and (3) allow GAO to have access to all pertinent documents relating to the program.
Mr. DINGELL. You are hitting on a point that is of much trouble to me. Is there anything in your view in this legislation which would preclude your utilizing your standard legislative authority to procure any information, documents or papers relative to the program or the conduct of any part of the program?
Mr. CANFIELD. No, there is nothing here. We could fall back on our standard legislative authority. However, we have lately been pushing to have explicit statements in individual pieces of legislation in order to avoid any access difficulties. For example, some people have argued in the past, "Well, you really don't have access because the authority wasn't transferred when the new Department of Energy was created" or something similar. We would like to prevent this type of confusion.
Mr. DINGELL. We like to know when you have those problems.
Mr. CANFIELD. This is just an added statement on the part of the Congress to make clear that the authority we have also applies to this program.
Mr. DINGELL. I have no problem with that_idea. However, I believe such specific authority is unnecessary. The GAO has ade quate authority. I expect the GAO to use it and the DOE, the States, and all beneficiaries and participants under this bill to cooperate fully.
Mr. CANFIELD. We can suggest specific language with regard to the amendments. We will be happy to do that.
We also recommend that, because of uncertainties about the adequacy of the current technology for cleaning up milltailings, the Secretary of Energy should report to the Congress, through the Subcommittee on Energy and Power and its Senate counterpart, whether milltailings cleanup research and development has reached a satisfactory point whereby the milltailings cleanup program can proceed with a high probability of success at this time.
If this report shows that the research and development has not reached a satisfactory point, the Secretary should describe what remains to be done and make recommendations to assure that the necessary research and development work is completed in a timely
The Secretary should also report to the Congress on the actions it has taken to see that the Grand Junction remedial action program is aggressively carried out.
Before concluding my statement, let me again emphasize what I believe to be a very important point. The legislation only deals with the responsibility of the Federal Government for assisting in cleaning up milltailings at inactive uranium mills. The broader question of who should be responsible for expenses incurred at the so-called back end of the fuel cycle, such as decommissioning and decontaminating nuclear powerplants and other nuclear facilities, remains to be addressed.
To be licensed, currently operating uranium mills must agree to clean up all of their radioactive materials-an approach we favor. For nuclear powerplants and other nuclear facilities, however, as highlighted in our June 1977 report to the Congress on "Cleaning Up the Remains of Nuclear Facilities-A Multibillion Dollar Problem," the question of basic responsibility for decommissioning has yet to be addressed.
This concludes my prepared statement. We would be pleased to respond to any questions you might have.
[Testimony resumes on p. 283.] [The report referred to follows:]
REPORT TO THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON ÉNERGY AND POWER
THE URANIUM MILL TAILINGS CLEANUP:
FEDERAL LEADERSHIP AT LAST?
If nuclear power is to become a viable energy source for the future, many major problems must be overcome. One of these problems is the lack of progress by the United States in developing and operating acceptable radioactive waste disposal systems--even though such wastes have been accumulating for more than 30 years.
Uranium mill tailings are an often overlooked aspect of the waste disposal problem. Since the 1940s, 39 privately owned mills have produced and sold uranium to the U.S. Government. Twenty-two of these mills have since closed down, leaving about 25 million tons of radioactive sand-like waste --commonly called mill tailings--in unattended piles and ponds. Until recently these tailings were believed to be of such low radiation that they were not considered to be harmful to the public. However, recent concern about the possible adverse effects of low level radiation over long periods of time has served as an impetus for various organizations to seek ways to prevent the tailings from causing any harm to the public. It is a complex and expensive undertaking.
Because of problems with uranium mill tailings, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has instituted new procedures aimed at protecting the public from the hazards of these tailings. By 1978 all new and existing uranium mill licensees will require a tailings reclamation plan and bonding arrangements to finance the tailings reclamation after the mills are shut down. There are 16 mills in operation throughout the United States, and NRC estimates that 109 mills will be needed by the year 2000. This report only addresses the tailings associated with the 22 inactive uranium mill sites.
On April 27, 1978, the Department of Energy (DOE) submitted proposed legislation to the Congress to allow it to enter into cooperative arrangements with a number of States to clean up the inactive mill tailings sites. The proposed legislation, entitled the "Residual Radioactive Materials Act of 1978" (H.R. 12535), is now being considered by the Congress and its committees. If enacted, the cleanup program could cost an estimated $126 million.
A copy of the proposed legislation is contained in Appendix I.
As input to the Congress' deliberations on this proposed legislation, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) for its views on
the proposed legislation. In response to the Chairman's May 5, 1978, request, this report addresses
--the need for a Federal program to clean up the 22
inactive uranium mill tailings sites (See ch. 2.);
--the adequacy of the proposed legislation that would
authorize such a program (See ch. 3.);
--the progress and problems of an existing, but much
smaller, cleanup program at Grand Junction, Colorado (See ch. 4.); and
--several other questions asked by the Subcommittee
SCOPE OF REVIEW
We obtained the information contained in this report by reviewing key documents, studies, reports, correspondence, and other records, and by interviewing officials at
--DOE headguarters, Washington, D.C. and Germantown,
--Colorado Department of Health offices in Denver, and
Grand Junction, Colorado;
--DOE operations office, Grand Junction, Colorado;
--Environmental Protection Agency headguarters, Washing
ton, D.C.; and
--NRC offices, Rethesda, Maryland.
Much of our work was based on our previous involvement in evaluating the uranium mill tailings and radioactive waste disposal problems and programs.
We furnished copies of a draft of this report to DOE and NRC. Because of the extremely short timeframe to do this assignment, we did not seek their formal comments on the report; nevertheless, both agencies informally told us that they generally agreed with this report.
THE NEED FOR A FEDERAL URANIUM MILL
TAILINGS CLEANUP PROGRAM
During the past years there has been considerable congressional and public interest in the uranium mill tailings issue. GAO has also been interested in this area and has issued three reports since May 1975 that have dealt with the subject of cleaning up radioactive uranium mill tailings 1/, and a number of other reports discussing various radioactive waste disposal problems.
A BACKGROUND ON URANIUM MILL
The fiscal year 1973 authorization act for the former Atomic Energy Commission (P.L. 92-314) created the first federal mill tailings cleanup program. The act authorized the Commission to enter into a cooperative agreement with Colorado to limit the exposure of individuals to radiation from uranium mill tailings which had been used in constructing houses and other buildings in Grand Junction, Colorado. As of May 31, 1978, 315 of about 700 locations have been cleaned up, at a cost of about $6.5 million. Chapter 4 discusses the Grand Junction cleanup program in more detail.
In 1974 legislation (H.R. 11387, s. 2566) was proposed in the Congress that would have primarily allowed the Federal Government to enter into a cooperative agreement with Utah to clean up the so-called Vitro tailings site in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, at hearings before the former Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, officials from DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that many other sites had similar problems, and that all of the sites should be assessed and, if necessary, cleaned up. The proposed legislation was not enacted.
In January 1978, almost 4 years after the Joint Committee hearings, DOE submitted engineering assessment reports on 22 inactive mill tailings sites to the Congress. According to DOE,
1/"Comments on Proposed Legislation to Amend Public Law 92-314
and for Other Purposes" (EMD-77-52, July 19, 1977), "Cleaning Up the Remains of Nuclear Facilities--A Multibillion Dollar Problem" (EMD-77-46, June 16, 1977), and "Controlling the Radiation Hazard from Uranium Mill Tailings" (RED-75-365, May 21, 1975).