The only underground nuclear waste repository in the United States doesn’t have enough space for radioactive tools, clothing and other debris left over from decades of bomb-making and research, much less tons of weapons-grade plutonium that the nation has agreed to eliminate as part of a pact with Russia, federal auditors said.
In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the U.S. Energy Department has no plans for securing regulatory approvals and expanding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico before it reaches capacity in less than a decade.
“DOE modeling that is needed to begin the regulatory approval process is not expected to be ready until 2024,” the auditors said in their report released Tuesday.
Energy Department officials contend there’s enough time to design and build addition storage before existing operations are significantly affected.
A Senate committee requested the review from auditors amid concerns about ballooning costs and delays in the U.S. effort to dispose of 34 metric tons of its plutonium.
Citing the delays and other reasons, Russia last fall suspended its commitment to get rid of its own excess plutonium.