U.S. probes nuclear dump
documents about Yucca Mountain
18-03-2005 - Government employees
may have falsified documents related to the Yucca Mountain nuclear
waste project in Nevada, the Energy Department said Wednesday. The
disclosure could jeopardize the project's ability to get a federal
permit to operate the dump.
During preparation for a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, the department said it found a number of e-mails from 1998
through 2000 in which an employee of the U.S. Geological Survey "indicated
that he had fabricated documentation of his work."
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the department is investigating
what kind of information was falsified and whether it would affect the
scientific underpinnings of the project.
"If in the course of that review any work is found to be deficient, it
will be replaced or supplemented with analysis and documents that meet
appropriate quality assurance standards," said Bodman. He said he was
"greatly disturbed" by the development.
The department said the questionable data involved computer modeling
for water infiltration and climate at the Yucca site, which is 90
miles northwest of Las Vegas.
At a House hearing Wednesday, the official who recently took over the
Yucca program in the Energy Department indicated that the revelations
could further delay the project.
"I assure you we will not proceed until we have rectified these
problems," Theodore Garrish told Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, chairman
of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls the dollars for
Garrish was not asked to elaborate. After the hearing, he declined to
answer reporters' questions.
Hobson said the problem did not appear too serious and that he did not
think it would throw Yucca Mountain off track.
"As I understand it this is not a major impediment and can be
corrected very easily," Hobson told reporters. "Some people just don't
want to do their job right, so they'll slip it through rather than
doing their job. We don't have any evidence that somebody directed
anybody to do this."
Chip Groat, director of the Geological Survey, said the e-mails "have
raised serious questions about the review process of scientific
studies done six years ago."
The disclosure follows other setbacks for the proposed waste dump. The
department has delayed filing its license application to nuclear
regulators and now acknowledges that the planned completion of the
facility by 2010 no longer is possible. Garrish told the committee
Wednesday that he couldn't provide a new completion date.
Congress last year refused to provide all the money sought by the Bush
administration for the project. A federal appeals court rejected the
radiation protection standards established by the Environmental
Protection Agency; the agency is developing new standards.
Last month, the official in charge of the Yucca project resigned,
citing personal reasons.
The discovery of the e-mails "really casts the project in a real bad
light. In lieu of the other problems, it might be the one that pushes
it over the edge to cancellation," said Bob Loux, Nevada state Nuclear
Projects director and Gov. Kenny Guinn's chief anti-Yucca
Loux said potential water transport -- the issue that some of the
questionable work apparently involved -- is critical for the proposed
Water is "the key mechanism at Yucca Mountain both in terms of
infiltrating into the site and in terms of letting radioactivity
release into the biosphere," Loux said.
Word that documents may have been falsified "certainly calls into
question DOE's ability to submit any kind of a license application in
the near term," Loux said.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the
development "proves once again that DOE must cheat and lie in order to
make Yucca Mountain look safe."
Bodman said the questionable documents were part of the papers
required by the NRC to verify the accuracy of earlier work in the
"The fact remains that this country needs a permanent geological
nuclear waste repository, and the administration will continue to
aggressively pursue that goal," Bodman said. He said that "all related
decisions have been, and will continue to be, based on sound science."
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