The Department of Energy (DOE) may have acted illegally in conducting uranium transfers that benefitted the troubled United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), according to analysis in a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report, released last week, finds that DOE failed to abide by restrictions imposed by the USEC Privatization Act of 1996, and some of its own guidance, when it carried out four transfers between 2012 and 2013.
During a March 2013 transfer, for instance, DOE acted improperly by transferring ownership of low-enriched uranium to USEC without first obtaining a presidential determination that these assets were no longer necessary to meet the country’s national security needs – a specific requirement under the Act. During a May 2012 transfer, DOE transferred uranium tails (byproducts of uranium enrichment that can be re-enriched) to Energy Northwest, a USEC client, free of charge. The GAO contends that DOE does not have the authority to make such a transfer, and even if it did, that the agency failed to follow a legal requirement to charge a reasonable price for the tails. It didn’t help that, according to the report, DOE lacks a consistent method for valuing depleted uranium tails, thus preventing it from ensuring that the government is reasonably compensated for their disposal.
USEC, has benefitted from years of DOE financial support, costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Taxpayers need to be certain that DOE – an agency responsible for the nation’s nuclear security and power needs – abides by the law in its dealing with the private sector. Failure to do so constitutes a breach of taxpayer trust.