LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. Department of Energy is moving quickly with no master plan to shut down a project that would have buried the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada, the department's inspector general said in a report released Friday.
Department officials have used focus groups and set a Sept. 30 deadline to end the 28-year-long Yucca Mountain project, according to a report from DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman.
He made no recommendations, but warned of pitfalls to avoid in closing down such a large product.
His report compares closing the $10.5 billion Yucca Mountain project 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas to decommissioning the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas after Congress killed it in 1993.
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"We know of no other comparable single project termination in the department's recent history as consequential as Yucca Mountain," said the report, titled "Need for Enhanced Surveillance During the Yucca Mountain Project Shut Down."
Hanford's high-level radioactive waste, including the worst of the waste to be treated at the $12.3 billion vitrification plant, was expected to be sent to Yucca Mountain. It also would have held used nuclear power fuel, including the fuel from the Columbia Generating Station near Richland.
"A planning framework would have increased the likelihood of overall success of the effort" to shut down the project, the report says.
It promises a separate report on contractor costs, including $100 million claimed by former project management and operating contractor Bechtel SAIC during the past decade, and $75 million in subcontract costs from fiscal years 2004-09.
The project has about $6 million in personal property, and the report warned that DOE on occasion has failed to get money for potentially reusable property. It also warned that computer hard drives need to be sanitized to remove sensitive data.
DOE also needs to "take special steps to ensure that the extraordinary documentary record of the project be safeguarded for future use," the report said.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on scientific and engineering studies, analyses, evaluations and reviews, the report said.
If severance payments are offered to contractor employees, DOE needs to make sure they are consistent with contract provisions, the report said.
In a DOE reply to Friedman, DOE said it was disposing of excess property using good business practices and in accordance with DOE orders.
Hanford has been a beneficiary, receiving more than $2 million in equipment, desks, cubicles, printers and supplies moved from offices at the Yucca Mountain site and Las Vegas. The award of $1.96 billion in economic stimulus money for Hanford environmental cleanup has increased hiring and the need for equipment for those new workers.
Other equipment has gone to the Nevada Test Site, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and the Tonopah Test Range in rural Nevada, the letter said. Surplus emergency vehicles were transferred to Nevada's Nye County, home of the Yucca Mountain site.
Many computers are having their data erased so they can be redistributed to other DOE programs, but some are being donated to Nevada schools in Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties.
Friedman said in the report that he had planned to monitor the Yucca Mountain shutdown and was told in March that the Energy Department was preparing a master plan.
Auditors were told in June that "events were moving so quickly that no further action on the master plan was contemplated."