Congressional auditors said Energy officials broke laws through moves designed to benefit an ailing uranium-enrichment firm, the Washington Post reports.
The Energy Department repeatedly shifted supplies of refined uranium into and out of USEC's control in a process for which the nuclear firm sometimes received financial assistance, the Government Accountability Office said in a report made public on Monday. Auditors indicated that the uranium transactions were intended to assist the cash-strapped company, which declared bankruptcy in March.
One such move, carried out in March 2012, freed up $44 million in "previously encumbered funds" for development of a new uranium-enrichment centrifuge technology, according to the report. Washington has moved since that time to take full control of the project, which has been linked to the production of a hydrogen isotope used in U.S. nuclear weapons.
Auditors noted an instance in which the Energy Department violated domestic law by moving uranium supplies out of USEC's custody in 2012 and returning it to the firm one year later, the GAO report says. The federal agency cited a national-security justification for the initial transfer, and failed to obtain a legally required presidential certification for the second move, according to the Post.
Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) accused the Energy Department of keeping USEC "on life support, wasting money and flouting the law, even though it was clear that it would end up in bankruptcy."
The federal agency, though, defended its actions and took issue with much of the proposed guidance put forward by legislative investigators.