(ENS) WASHINGTON -- Government employees working on the licensing of Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the nation's only permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste "may have falsified documentation of their work," the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) acknowledged March 16.
The suspected worker was employed by the US Geological Survey (USGS) at the Department of the Interior, and the documentation in question "relates to computer modeling involving water infiltration and climate," said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
"During the document review process associated with the Licensing Support Network preparation for the Yucca Mountain project, DOE contractors discovered multiple e-mails written between May 1998 and March 2000, in which a USGS employee indicated that he had fabricated documentation of his work," Bodman said in a statement.
This documentation is required as part of the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission's quality assurance programs that verify the accuracy and credibility of work that has been completed.
Describing himself as "greatly disturbed" by the revelation, Bodman called the alleged fabrication "completely unacceptable." He has referred the matter to the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General for full investigation.
Yucca Mountain would be nation's first long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Currently stored at 126 sites around the nation, these materials are a result of nuclear power generation and national defense programs.
The DOE has informed the U.S, Geological Survey and the State of Nevada of the alleged falsification.
Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn, a Republican, said, "I am both disappointed and outraged by this development, but hardly surprised."
"All along, the State of Nevada has felt it is our duty to hold the federal government accountable on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump because we would be storing the deadliest substance known to man."
"This is yet another example as to why Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects has closely monitored the Yucca Mountain project since its inception," Guinn said. "This comes on the heels of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruling the EPA radiation protection standard was deficient."
Because the data in question involved computer modeling for water infiltration and climate, the sitution is particularly troubling, Guinn said.
"DOE's revelation is critical because water is the mechanism that could corrode the storage containers at Yucca Mountain and carry radioactive waste into the environment,"the governor said. "This is the heart of the matter as to whether the storage of nuclear waste could be determined to be safe just 90 miles from Nevada's largest city, Las Vegas."
Guinn supports the Energy Secretary's call for a full investigation by DOE's Office of Inspector General.
U.S. Senators from Nevada John Ensign, a Republican, and Harry Reid, a Democrat seized upon the revelation as vindication for their longstanding position that Yucca Mountain is based on poor science and should not be licensed.
"We in Nevada have said for years that the science at Yucca Mountain is faulty Ð now it appears the science is fraudulent," Ensign said.
"This latest development provides yet another reason to abandon the misguided notion of storing high-level nuclear waste in Nevada and will hopefully encourage an accelerated discussion of alternatives that are safer and more scientifically sound. "
"These revelations will undoubtedly bolster Nevada's legal case against Yucca Mountain. Senator Reid and I will remain vigilant and weigh our options for further action, but today it is clear the Yucca Mountain project continues to crumble before its supporters' eyes," Ensign said.
"This proves once again that DOE must cheat and lie in order to make Yucca Mountain look safe," said Reid. "We aren't just talking about false documentation on paper, this is about the health and safety of Nevadans and the American people."
The Bush administration, which has approved the Yucca Mountain waste repository, has always insisted that its approval was based on sound science, a position that Secretary Bodman repeated Wednesday.
"The safe handling and disposal of nuclear waste and the sound scientific basis for the repository safety analysis are priorities for this administration and the Department of Energy. All related decisions have been, and will continue to be, based on sound science," Bodman said.
But Reid was not reassured by this statement. "It is abundantly clear that there is no such thing as 'sound science' at Yucca Mountain, and I'm disappointed President Bush rushed so quickly to push the project through and continues to make it a priority. I do not believe Yucca Mountain will ever open, and Nevada and our nation will be safer for our successful efforts to stop the project."
"It should be obvious to everyone now that Yucca Mountain isn't going anywhere," Reid said.
Both Nevada senators are working together on legislation that would allow waste to be stored on-site at nuclear facilities.
"The tide is turning on Yucca Mountain, and it's time we look at this viable alternative and realistic approach to long term waste storage," said Reid.
Nevada Congressman Jim Gibbons, a Republican and the sole geologist in Congress, said was not surprised to learn that reports about the safety of Yucca Mountain may have been falsified or fabricated.
"For over two decades, the Department of Energy has rushed headlong towards licensing the Yucca Mountain Project no matter what," said Gibbons. "Today's allegations are extremely serious and should halt the licensing process in its tracks."
"The Department of Energy has initiated a scientific investigation of the data and documentation that was part of this modeling activity," Bodman said.
"If in the course of that review any work is found to be deficient, it will be replaced or supplemented with analysis and documentation that meets appropriate quality assurance standards to ensure that the scientific basis of the project is sound," Bodman said. "We are conducting a thorough review of all work completed by the identified individuals to ensure that other work was not affected."
Gibbons was not placated by this assurance. "I do not know how any Nevadan or any American can have confidence in the DOE in its pursuit to license Yucca Mountain in light of these recent allegations of false documentation and their history of changing the rules and standards without any regard for safety or security," he said.
"The transportation and storage of high level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain has been and always will be an unsafe and unsuitable proposal that I will continue to fight," said Gibbons.
In addition, Bodman said, the DOE has begun an evalution to determine if the department's quality assurance procedures are "sufficient to prevent the reoccurrence of a similar situation."
"We plan to reemphasize to project personnel the importance of strict adherence to quality assurance procedures," he said.
"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. "We are committed to the safety and protection of the citizens of Nevada as we pursue the development of the Yucca Mountain project."
March 17, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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