Summary of Hearings on Nuclear Waste Management (8-7-06)
- August 3, 2006: Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources, Hearing on S. 2589, The Nuclear
Fuel Disposal Act
- July 19, 2006: House Committee on Energy
and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, Hearing
on the Department of Energy's Revised Schedule for Yucca Mountain
- March 15, 2006: House Committee on Energy,
Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, Hearing on "Status
of the Yucca Mountain Project"
- June 27, 2005: House Government Reform
Committee, Federal Workforce and Agency Organization Subcommittee,
Hearing on "Yucca Mountain Project: Digging for the Truth"
- June 16, 2005: House Science Committee,
Energy Subcommittee, Hearing on Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Technologies
- April 5, 2005: House Government Reform
Committee, Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Agency Organization,
Hearing on "The Yucca Mountain Project: Have Federal Employees
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Hearing on S. 2589, The
Nuclear Fuel Disposal Act
August 3, 2006
Senator Harry Reid (D - NV)
Senator John Ensign (R - NV)
Mr. Edward Sproat, Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste
Management, Department of Energy
Mr. Martin Virgilio, Deputy Executive Director for Materials, Research,
State and Compliance Programs, U.S. Nuclear Regulation Commission
Mr. David Wright, Commissioner, South Carolina Public Service Commission
Mr. J. Barney Beasley, President and Chief Executive Officer, Southern
Mr. Robert Loux, Executive Director, Agency for Nuclear Projects,
Office of the Governor, State of Nevada
Mr. Geoff Fettus, Esquire, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources convened in
the final week of business before the August recess to discuss S.
2589, the Nuclear Fuel Disposal Act. The bill was introduced by Senators
Pete V. Domenici (R - NM) and James M. Inhofe (R - OK) on April 6,
2006 at the request of the Department of Energy (DOE). The bill contains
a number of components deemed critical to the furtherance and success
of the Yucca Mountain Project, including stipulations for the land
withdrawal and the Nuclear Regulation Commission's (NRC) licensing
process, release of the Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF), and the acquisition
of water rights for the project. The bill also raises the cap on the
amount of material that can be stored at Yucca from the 70,000 metric
ton limit that had been administratively imposed to an amount consistent
with the geological potential of the area.
Committee Chairman Domenici's chief concerns were the timeline for
construction and the time needed to transport waste to the repository.
Mr. Sproat's office recently released a goal of opening the Yucca
Mountain facility on March 31, 2017 (see House hearing summary below).
However, this estimate does not contain any flexibility for future
delays that may result from technical issues or from possible litigation.
Once the facility does open, and assuming that the 70,000 metric ton
cap has been significantly raised, it will still take at least another
23 years beyond the 2017 opening date to transport all of the current
nuclear waste to the facility at a rate of 3,000 metric tons per year,
the estimated capacity of the transportation infrastructure. According
to information provided to Chairman Domenici by industry, at least
25 new nuclear reactors are currently slated to be built; these will
generate new waste destined for Yucca Mountain. For these reasons,
the Chairman strongly advocates implementing a practical interim solution
that should include the development of nuclear reactors that use recycled
fuel to reduce the volume and toxicity of the material that must be
Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman (D - NM) was skeptical about some of
the terms of the legislation. Specifically, he observed that the bill
did not appear to affect the process by which the DOE must apply to
the NRC for a license to store nuclear material; the application is
not due to be submitted until 2008. He was also concerned about the
vague language that authorizes funding for "infrastructure activities,"
but does not specify what these activities are. The senator wanted
assurances that this bill would not include building an interim storage
facility or a railroad to the Yucca Mountain repository from the national
Senator Harry Reid (D - NV) called the Yucca Mountain a "scientifically
unsound project" that threatens the health of Americans. The
DOE has a record of falsifying data on the project, yet they are now
asking Congress to trust them as they move forward with plans that
they have not yet released. Moreover, Congress has every reason to
believe those plans may be faulty because the contractor, Bechtel,
is the same company responsible for the deadly fiasco at the Big Dig.
According to NRC estimates, dry cask storage is viable for one to
two hundred years. The Chairman's testimony indicates that most of
the country's nuclear waste will be stored in this manner until late
in this century no matter how smoothly the Yucca Mountain Project
is carried out. If we abandon this "dead" project in favor
of accepting the reality of decentralized dry cask storage, we would
save at least $45 billion, and probably more.
Senator John Ensign (R - NV) added that Yucca Mountain actually makes
nuclear energy less economically viable because of the enormous costs
of the project. A major problem posed by the proposed land withdrawal
is its interference with Nellis Air Force Base. The withdrawal would
close the airspace above the 147,000-acre facility, airspace currently
used by Nellis to mimic conditions in the middle-east for training
purposes. The Senator also pooh-poohed security arguments against
decentralized storage because none of the projections for the Yucca
Mountain Project expect that 100% of our nuclear waste will ever be
stored there. Senator Maria Cantwell (D - WA) supported this claim,
advising the committee that only 13 - 18% of the nuclear material
at Hanford, a nuclear facility in Washington State where the plutonium
for "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" was produced, would
be stored at Yucca.
Mr. Sproat described the six crucial components of S. 2589. 1. Release
of the NWF will provide stability of funding to the program while
maintaining congressional oversight. 2. Land withdrawal would permanently
prevent public use of the land, a condition of NRC acceptance of any
licensing proposal. 3. Removing the 70,000 metric ton cap on storage
capacity and allowing a scientific assessment of true capacity will
prevent DOE from having to build a second repository in the very near
future. 4. Declaring the Yucca Mountain Project to be "in the
public interest" will override the State of Nevada's legislation
to the contrary and thus compel the state to provide water rights
to the facility. 5. Giving DOE authority to regulate the transport
of nuclear waste materials (superseding state regulations) will ensure
efficient, fast transport of materials to the facility. 6. The legislation
will allow the nuclear industry to move forward with licensing new
facilities by addressing the need for waste confidence.
Mr. Virgilio, testifying on the behalf of NRC, cited one significant
problem with S. 2589. Language in section 4 of the bill requires that
the NRC produce a full review of DOE's license application within
one year of submittal. According to Mr. Virgilio's testimony, this
timeframe will be insufficient to perform the necessary environmental
assessments and will prevent the NRC from meeting its statutory obligations.
As such, the commission requests that this language be changed to
allow two years from the date of submittal for the review. Mr. Beasley
concurred with the Chairman and the senators from Nevada that an economic,
centrally-located interim storage facility would be necessary; he
pressed the committee to hasten the removal of on-site nuclear waste
to encourage the licensing and building of new facilities.
Mr. Loux and Mr. Fettus argued vehemently against the legislation,
saying that it weakens or eliminates regulatory oversight on both
the transport and disposal of nuclear waste. Mr. Loux, who spoke on
behalf of the Governor of Nevada, pointed out that the ability of
the DOE to supersede states' constitutional rights sets a dangerous
precedent, not only for Nevada but for every state in the union. Both
men argued that the choice of Yucca Mountain for the waste repository
was politically motivated and not scientifically sound.
Committee on Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
Hearing on the Department
of Energy's Revised Schedule for Yucca Mountain
July 19, 2006
Edward F. Sproat III, Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste
Management, U.S. Department of Energy
For over twenty years, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been attempting
to open a nuclear waste repository and has focused its efforts on
Yucca Mountain, an uninhabited ridge in the Nevada desert. Failure
to open a repository facility by 1998 has placed the Department in
breach of contract with nuclear energy utilities across the country,
resulting in billions of dollars of settlement payments. Furthermore,
the rise in oil prices and concerns over global warming have resulted
in a "renaissance" for nuclear energy that has brought the
current and projected need for waste storage to a point of crisis.
DOE's efforts to get the Yucca Mountain facility up and running have
been delayed and have prompted the President's selection of a new
director for the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM)
from the nuclear energy industry. Mr. Edward F. Sproat III took office
only five weeks ago and has issued a timeline for completion of the
Yucca Mountain facility, which is scheduled to begin receipt of waste
materials on March 31, 2017.
Subcommittee Chairman Ralph M. Hall (R - TX) made clear in his opening
remarks his support for the Yucca Mountain project. New nuclear plants
must be built, he said, but before industry is willing to invest they
must have some guarantee that DOE will provide a facility for waste
disposal. The chairman requested that, in addition to the timeline
already submitted, Mr. Sproat's office produce a funding profile for
Ranking member Rick Boucher (D - VA) expressed concern over the amount
of money that electricity consumers have paid into the Yucca Mountain
trust fund. These consumers have been paying for decades, even when
they no longer use power generated by a nuclear facility. In addition,
that fund has repeatedly been mined for other projects and is not
currently protected for the exclusive purpose of funding construction
at Yucca Mountain.
Mr. Sproat, who brought a great deal of energy and vigor to the witness
stand, agreed that the expansion of nuclear energy facilities is necessary
for the U.S. to meet current and future energy demands and that the
delays in developing a waste repository is a stumbling block to increasing
U.S. nuclear energy capacity. He went on to outline four strategic
objectives that he intends to pursue: (1) submit a complete license
application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by June 30,
2008; (2) build up the OCRWM organization with highly skilled professionals
who are able to address all of the needs of designing, licensing and
managing the construction of the Yucca Mountain project; (3) address
DOE's liability for its contracts with the owners of nuclear power
plants by employing "a portfolio of legal and financial solutions;"
and (4) address the issue of transporting spent fuel. "The whole
issue of transportation has been under-funded, and not enough attention
[has been] paid to it." According to an NRC report cited in Mr.
Sproat's testimony, there are a number of "social and institutional
challenges" that will have to be addressed before the widespread
transport of nuclear material may commence. Mr. Sproat urged the committee
to move with all haste to get the "Nuclear Fuel Management Disposal
Act," a package of legislation previously submitted by DOE, through
Congress. The legislation would allow DOE to permanently withdraw
the land for the repository-a step necessary for licensing-and would
allow access to the fund created for the purpose of building a nuclear
Congressman Joe Barton (R - TX) expressed concern that
the DOE legislation would not pass the Senate. If that were to be
the case, Mr. Sproat replied, it would not affect the timetable in
the near term, but would be catastrophic to the overall effort. He
then offered to act as a facilitator to build consensus and win passage
of the bill. In response to questions raised by the committee, Mr.
Sproat offered two main insights: First, that interim storage, while
not wholly objectionable, would be unlikely to buy much time for the
project, since licensing and litigation could easily stretch to 2017
and beyond. This analysis flies in the face of an earlier decision
by the House Committee on Appropriations to provide funding and advocacy
for centralized interim storage. Second, the administrative cap on
Yucca Mountain's waste capacity should be raised. Senators Pete Domenici
(R - NM) and James Inhofe (R - OK) have already introduced a bill
(S. 2589) to raise the current limit of 70,000 metric tons to coincide
with the repository's geologic capacity in order to avoid building
a second facility in the near future (see AGI's Nuclear Waste Legislation
Committee on Energy
Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
Hearing on "Status
of the Yucca Mountain Project"
March 15, 2006
Clay Sell, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy
On March 15, Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell testified before
the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality in a hearing on the
status of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage program. In his
testimony, Sell detailed the importance of Yucca Mountain, adding,
"This administration and the Department of Energy are committed
to aggressively moving forward with Yucca Mountain."
Committee members questioned Sell about the administration's proposed
legislation on how to re-invigorate the Yucca Mountain project, which
is expected to be released by the Department of Energy (DOE) later
this month. Representative John Dingell (D-MI) noted that despite
the imminent legislation, DOE will not release plans for restructuring
the repository until the summer. Dingell expressed concern that the
timing offset between the legislation and the plans could prevent
Congress from passing any legislation on the project this year. In
response, Sell told the committee "We want to be quite sure that
when we put out the Yucca Mountain revised schedule, it will be one
we are confident will ultimately result in the granting of a license
Representatives also questioned Sell on the specifics of the legislative
proposal. DOE officials have said the proposal will ensure funding
for the Yucca Mountain project by giving DOE direct access to the
Yucca Mountain trust fund rather than relying on congressional appropriations.
Sell told the committee the bill would give the DOE access to "at
a minimum" the annual receipts into the fund, totaling roughly
$750 million each year.
For the full text of witness testimony, click
Government Reform Committee
Federal Workforce and Agency Organization
Hearing on "Yucca Mountain
Project: Digging for the Truth"
June 27, 2005
Mr. Joseph Hevesi, Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Mr. W. John Arthur III, Deputy Director, Office of Repository Development,
Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, U.S. Department of
On Friday, July 1, 2005, the House Government Reform Subcommittee
on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization held a hearing on
the "Yucca Mountain Project: Digging for the Truth." Although
this particular subcommittee does not have supervision over the proposed
Yucca Mountain nuclear repository, the subcommittee has been investigating
allegations that federal employees have falsified data related to
the site evaluation of Yucca Mountain. A previous hearing held on
April 6th included testimony from several government representatives
related to the ongoing investigation that stemmed from a series of
e-mails written from 1998 to 2000 that suggested data falsification
may have occurred.
Mr. Joseph Hevesi, a USGS hydrologist, appeared under subpoena and
was questioned regarding e-mails he had written to colleagues during
his time working as a water infiltration computer modeler for the
Yucca Mountain Project. Chairman Jon Porter (R-NV) and other members
questioned Hevesi for over two hours, with Chairman Porter stating
at the outset that the subcommittee "will not be deterred and
will continue to seek the truth behind the allegations."
Chairman Porter read excerpts of several of Hevesi's e-mails, including
12/17/98 - " [Yucca Mountain Project] has now reached a point
where they need to have certain items work no matter what, and the
infiltration maps are on the list."
12/18/98 - "The bottom line is forget about the money, we need
a product or we're screwed and will take the blame."
11/15/99 - "In the end I keep track of 2 sets of files, the
ones that keep [Quality Assurance] happy and the ones that were actually
Hevesi stated that he had "never falsified any documents regarding
Yucca Mountain or any other project.'' He explained his e-mails as
"water cooler talk" and "raw emotional responses"
to the pressure he was under from management to produce reports under
In his responses, Hevesi put Porter's e-mail excerpts into context.
Referring to an email in which he said he kept two sets of data files,
one that meets quality assurance criteria and one that doesn't, Hevesi
explained that, while numerically identical, the quality assurance
files had to have identifying header information, while another set
had to be formatted differently for a computer modelling program.
He also denied that another e-mail, which read, "certain items
need to work no matter what" meant that he falsified data. In
this email, Hevesi explained that he was simply referring to the task
of getting a computer program up and running properly. In all of his
emails, Hevesi explained in his testimony that "fudge factor
doesn't mean falsification," but rather a placeholder estimate
that scientists must make when there are too many unknowns in solving
a problem. Hevesi added, "I had a reputation for being flippant
in my e-mail."
Hevesi apologized at the end of his testimony for not understanding
at the time the seriousness of the e-mail correspondence. Many committee
members seemed satisfied with his explanations; Rep. Elijah Cummings
(D-MD) thanked him for his service and suggested that "if someone
had to look at all of our e-mails they might have a field day."
Even though no "smoking gun" of falsification was revealed
during Hevesi's testimony, all of the work Hevesi contributed to the
Yucca Mountain project is being re-evaluated by the Department of
Energy and the USGS to ensure that quality assurance standards have
been met. Hevesi agreed to additional interviews with committee staff
members and to answer in writing additional questions from the committee.
In the second panel, Mr. John Arthur of the Department of Energy
was questioned on the DOE's lack of cooperation with the committee's
requests. Chairman Porter suggested that it was in the public's interest
that DOE be as cooperative as possible to assuage fears that a cover-up
may be going on. Arthur promised that he would speak with Energy Secretary
Samuel Bodman about ensuring that all documents were released promptly.
Arthur also testified about the work that the DOE was doing to ensure
that the science of the Yucca Mountain Project was sound, particularly
with regard to Hevesi's contributions to the project. Chairman Porter,
however, was still critical of the actions of the DOE with regard
to these allegations, and said that further inquiry into the matter
will primarily involve investigations into DOE's cooperation.
Hearing on Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Technologies
June 16, 2005
Mr. Robert Shane Johnson, Acting Director of the Office of Nuclear
Energy, Science, and Technology, Deputy Director for Technology, Department
Mr. Matthew Bunn, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the
Atom, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Dr. Roger Hagengruber, Director of the Office for Policy, Security,
and Technology, Director of the Institute for Public Policy, Professor
of Political Science, University of New Mexico
Dr. Phillip J. Finck, Deputy Associate Laboratory Director, Applied
Science and Technology and National Security, Argonne National Laboratory
On June 16th, 2005 the Energy Subcommittee of the House Science Committee
heard testimony on the status of nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies
in the United States. The hearing comes as the House and Senate complete
work on fiscal year (FY) 2006 budget allocations for the Department
of Energy (DOE). Recent language in the House Energy and Water Appropriations
Bill, written by Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman David Hobson
(R-OH), calls for DOE to develop a nuclear fuel recycling plan along
with effective reprocessing technologies by the end of 2007. The hearing
specifically focused on the impact nuclear reprocessing technologies
may have on energy efficiency, nuclear waste management, and weapons
proliferation. Another hearing focused on the economics of reprocessing
with testimony from nuclear power industry representatives will be
held in the near future.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) opened the hearing by
declaring herself a proponent of nuclear power and of a geologic repository
at Yucca Mountain, but she stated that current U.S. policy on nuclear
waste is inefficient. "The bulk of what we call nuclear 'waste'
is actually nuclear 'fuel' that still contains over 90 percent of
its original energy content. Does that make any sense? No, but that's
our current policy, and it's just plain wasteful," Biggert said
in her opening statement.
Dr. Phillip J. Finck of Argonne National Laboratory discussed the
options for dispensing of spent nuclear fuel in the United States.
The first option, called the "once-through fuel cycle",
is the system currently in place in the U.S. In the once-through cycle,
spent nuclear fuel is disposed of without undergoing any reprocessing
to separate the components of the waste for further use. Spent nuclear
fuel is composed of 93% by weight of uranium, 5% fission products,
and 2% transuranic elements, including plutonium. Under current U.S.
policy, spent nuclear fuel will eventually be disposed of at the planned
geologic repository within Yucca Mountain. "This approach is
considered safe, provided that suitable repository locations and space
can be found," Dr. Finck wrote in his prepared statement. The
second option, termed "limited recycling" by Dr. Finck,
is currently in use in France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The
process, called PUREX, separates the plutonium and uranium from the
waste stream where they are re-used as fuel in a commercial nuclear
reactor. However, since the spent plutonium/uranium fuel is not recycled
again and the other fission products are not recycled at all, this
limited recycling process only results in a 10% reduction in the total
volume of produced waste. In addition, there are concerns that an
increased supply of concentrated plutonium creates a risk of nuclear
proliferation. The third option, termed "full recycle" or
the "closed fuel cycle", uses advanced processes, such as
UREX+ or "pyroprocessing", to continually recycle and reuse
the uranium and transuranics streams from the waste fuel. The recycled
uranium can be reused as fuel or disposed of as low-level radioactive
waste. The transuranic elements can be used in special "fast
reactors" where they are transmuted to byproducts that produce
less heat and radioactivity upon disposal. According to Dr. Finck,
"these approaches are expected to increase the effective capacity
of a geologic repository by a factor of 50 to 100."
Mr. Robert Shane Johnson of the Department of Energy spoke of the
leadership that the DOE's Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative has in developing
spent nuclear fuel separation and recycling technologies. Johnson
said that the DOE "has successfully demonstrated the technical
feasibility of advanced, proliferation-resistant fuel cycle technologies."
He called for larger-scale demonstrations to show the commercial feasibility
of these technologies. Under questioning from Subcommittee Chairwoman
Judy Biggert (R-IL), Johnson said that reprocessing research and development
is well-integrated among the national laboratories but that the labs
"do not have as much industry participation as we could."
Mr. Matthew Bunn of the Kennedy School at Harvard spoke strongly
against a quick decision to institute reprocessing in the United States.
Bunn testified that he was a proponent of nuclear energy, but that
the "future of nuclear energy is best addressed by not reprocessing
in the near future". Mr. Bunn argued that reprocessing is more
expensive than other options, that it increases proliferation risks,
that energy efficiency and waste reduction claims are overestimated,
and that it is premature to make a decision to begin reprocessing
in the United States. Bunn called for an "end-to-end systems
analysis" of advanced nuclear reprocessing technologies, particularly
in comparison with "dry cask" storage of spent fuel, which
he promoted as a safe, interim storage method while final decisions
on Yucca Mountain and advanced reprocessing are being made. Other
panel members, along with members of the subcommittee, agreed that
a full systems analysis of advanced reprocessing technologies is needed
along with continued funding for research and development.
Dr. Roger Hagengruber of the University of New Mexico agreed with
Bunn that there is no urgency to begin reprocessing. "The U.S.
can take some of the next ten years to evaluate technologies and make
a more enduring and prudent decision on reprocessing," Hagengruber
said in his prepared testimony. Although Hagengruber's testimony expressed
opposition to a quick decision on reprocessing as sought by some in
the House, he expressed sympathy with the need for time tables to
"keep programs from becoming endless academic exercises."
Hagengruber suggested that the DOE should report in 2007 on the most
promising technology and evaluate whether the technology is cost-effective
and proliferation-resistant. He put a particular emphasis on the importance
of creating a proliferation-resistant reprocessing technology, stating
that "prudent management requires exclusively pursuing proliferation
resistant technologies, developing international agreements that limit
the spread of enrichment facilities, and investing in a strong safeguards
Government Reform Committee
Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Agency
Hearing on "The Yucca Mountain Project: Have Federal Employees
April 5, 2005
The Honorable Kenny C. Guinn, Governor of Nevada;
The Honorable Harry Reid, United States Senator (NV);
The Honorable John Ensign, United States Senator (NV);
The Honorable Brian Sandoval, Attorney General of Nevada.
The Honorable Charles G. Groat, Director, U.S. Geological Survey,
U.S. Department of the Interior;
The Honorable Ted Garrish, Deputy Director, Office of Civilian Radioactive
Waste Management, U.S. Department of Energy;
The Honorable Earl E. Devaney, Inspector General, U.S. Department
of the Interior;
The Honorable Gregory H. Friedman, Inspector General, U.S. Department
Judy Treichel, Executive Director, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force;
The Honorable B. John Garrick, Chairman, Nuclear Waste Technical Review
Joe Egan, Esquire, on behalf of Attorney General Brian Sandoval of
Bob Loux, Executive Director, Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.
Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV), Chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee
on Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, invited the rest of
Nevada's House delegation, Jim Gibbons (R-NV) and Shelley Berkley
(D-NV), to hear testimony regarding whether federal employees falsified
data for the Yucca Mountain project. Nevada's Senate delegation was
asked to offer testimony along with officials from the Department
of Energy (DOE), the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the State
On March 16, the DOE and DOI disclosed the existence of several emails,
dated between 1998 and 2000, that suggest U.S. Geological Survey employees
may have manipulated data relating to climate and water infiltration
models for the nuclear repository. In the emails, which are posted
on the subcommittee's website,
employees express frustration with DOE's quality assurance program
and allude to manipulating data in order to meet quality assurance
requirements. According to an internal DOE memo, "these e-mails
may create a substantial vulnerability for the program."
In their opening statements, Reps. Porter and Berkeley read through
excerpts from the emails, which they said reflected "nothing
short of criminal behavior," and called for the government to
abandon the project altogether. Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and John
Ensign (R-NV), along with Nevada's governor and attorney general all
demanded the same. "What began as a noble effort
into a quagmire of politics where the laws of expediency prevail over
the laws of science," said Governor Kenny Guinn, who likened
the case to the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Guinn insisted DOE must
be deliberately minimizing the implications of the email messages
if they continue to deny the State of Nevada access to the evidence.
Instead of openness, Guinn said, "what we get from DOE is obfuscating
and damage control."
Governor Guinn agreed to Rep. Berkeley's entreaty to secure a second
meeting with President Bush to discuss these and other complications
of the Yucca Mountain Project. Nevadans intend to hold the President
firmly to a statement made in 2002, in which he ensured that his final
decision regarding the repository would be based on scientific data
and "sound science."
In the second panel of witnesses, agency officials could not speak
substantively about the allegations, due to pending investigations
by the Inspectors General (IG) from DOE and DOI, in partnership with
the FBI. Chairman Porter grilled USGS Director Chip Groat and Ted
Garrish, Director of DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management,
on steps that are being taken to address any immediate threat to the
project. Groat testified that the individuals involved were no longer
assigned to theYucca Mountain project, but had not been suspended.
"We have not followed [disciplinary] procedures based on our
own investigation because we must wait for the IG reports," Groat
said. DOI's Inspector General, Earl Devaney, confirmed that such an
investigation would be inappropriate and suspending employees at this
time would be premature.
Garrish, who is in charge of overseeing the progress of Yucca Mountain,
testified that "there have been misunderstandings relative to
what the emails allege." According to Garrish, one employee only
failed to properly date his work according to quality assurance procedures.
Garrish said that the criminal investigation underway will be followed
by a technical evaluation of the science that may have been affected,
as well as a review of the "culture" surrounding quality
Rep. Berkeley asked whether Groat and Garrish would agree to an additional,
independent investigation. Groat replied that he would welcome any
such investigation, while Garrish essentially rejected the idea, asking
Berkeley who she had in mind, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
has already been mandated to play that role through their review of
the license application.
"The very idea that you are investigating yourself is a joke
to me," Berkeley said, adding, "now you have said
the DOE believes in openness; well we've got whistle blowers coming
out of the wazoo telling us that there is no such thing as openness
at the DOE." In trying to systematically debunk values, such
as openness and self-identification, that Garrish set out in his testimony,
Berkeley cited testimony of other witnesses who said DOE continued
to withhold information from Nevadan officials.
Gibbons continued to shift the focus of blame from the
actions of the USGS employees to potential systemic failures within
the DOE management. As one email reads, "...[Yucca Mountain Project]
has now reached a point where they need to have certain items work
no matter what, and the infiltration maps are on that list."
Joe Egan, an attorney representing the State of Nevada, told the panelists,
"falsification is nothing new to DOE." He cited other incidents
in the project, in which DOE falsified documents relating to the toxicity
of tunnels under the mountain, exposing workers to toxic silica dust.
He also testified that the email disclosure was not voluntary and
officials have been aware of the emails since December, 2004.
Sources: Hearing testimony, Environment & Energy Daily.
Contributed by Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern; John Vermylen,
2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern;
and Carrie Donnelly, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on August 7, 2006.