LAS VEGAS — The Energy Department lost $458,000 last year giving away equipment it deemed no longer needed for a financially strapped national nuclear waste dump in Nevada, according to its inspector general.
A never-used conveyer belt feeder and a generator listed as new were among 1,300 items with a potential value of $1.75 million turned over to a contractor for disposal, according to a report released this week by the department inspector general in Washington.
The Sept. 27 report blamed the Energy Department for "poor property management practices" when it rid itself of excess inventory after completing site studies for the proposed Yucca Mountain national nuclear waste repository, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
It said the material could have been auctioned or offered to other federal agencies. Items included a refurbished $792,000 rock-boring machine called a road-header that the contractor advertised for sale as being "in very good condition with only 165 hours of use."
A department spokesman identified the contractor as Toxco Inc., a metals recycling company in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
John Arthur, Yucca Mountain project deputy director, defended the giveaway as the most cost-effective way to get rid of the material. He said some items had been shipped to Nevada when the Energy Department abandoned repository studies in Texas and Washington state in 1987.
The equipment had little value after "years of nonuse and harsh exposure to the desert environment," Arthur said.
Auditors said the Energy Department paid $73,000 to dispose of the material and "lost the potential to recover funds that could have been used to satisfy pressing mission needs."
They said two diagnostics trailers that belonged to the National Nuclear Security Administration for use at the Nevada Test Site were turned over mistakenly for disposal.
The report comes with the Energy Department scrambling for funds to keep plans on track to open the repository in 2010.