07/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

DOE Nuclear Clean-Up Program "High-Risk Area For Fraud, Waste, Abuse, And Mismanagement"

The Department of Energy is not adequately reporting the environmental impact of its billion-dollar program to clean up nuclear waste, according to a government audit.

The Government Accountability Office released a report today noting that the DOE's nuclear clean-up program has been labeled as "a high-risk area for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement" since 1990, which the GOA says is the result of "inadequate management and oversight of its projects."

As recently as March of 2009, the report stated, the GOA testified that cost increases at some major nuclear clean up projects were estimated to require an additional $25 to $42 billion to complete. Despite the consistent problems with the projects and ballooning budgets, the DOE did not adequately report its progress or the actual environmental impact of its work, the audit states.

The rising costs on major projects are now being funded partially by the stimulus package, which, according to The Washington Post, has earmarked over $6 billion for cleaning up nuclear sites. The article goes on to report that some of the private contractors receiving stimulus money were previously cited by the GAO for serious flaws in their performance.

The paper highlights Washington Closure Hanford, a firm which will receive $254 million for its work at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The same company ran afoul of the Environmental Protection Agency two years ago when a report showed that employees were "falsifying documents about their handling of nuclear waste." In the report released today, the GAO notes that at Hanford, contaminants passed from the site into groundwater that feeds the Columbia River, which is used for irrigation and drinking water downstream, in addition to being a major route for salmon.

The Post article also mentions an incident at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, when a worker fell through a weakened floor three years ago. The accident caused a complete halt to the project for months and caused cost estimates to rise to $781 billion. The GAO report states that the DOE did not adequately report on this site, saying only that 1,000 acres of land had been cleaned without describing how dangerous the land was to begin with or the "potential environmental consequences" had the land not been cleaned.

The report shows that despite huge government investment, the DOE is not adequately managing their private contractors, which are already prone to fraud. With over $6 billion now at stake, the nuclear clean-up projects could become a major source of embarrassment for the DOE.