Falsified documents at Yucca Mountain

The government disclosed that scientists on the Yucca Mountain project may have falsified documents, dealing the latest blow to plans to bury the nation’s nuclear waste in Nevada.

Supporters of the nuclear waste dump insisted the development wouldn’t derail it.

Yucca Mountain has suffered so many setbacks that a top Energy Department official couldn’t tell lawmakers a projected completion date Wednesday. The disclosure about the documents could jeopardize the government’s ability to get a federal license to open the dump or delay the license even more.

At the least, it hands Nevada one more weapon as it fights to kill the dump.

“This strikes at the very heart of the technical dispute between the state of Nevada and the Energy Department,” said Joe Egan, Nevada’s attorney in the dump fight. “That’s what we’re preparing to litigate.”

A statement Wednesday from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said that during preparation for a license application to nuclear regulators, the department found e-mails from May 1998 through March 2000 in which an employee of the U.S. Geological Survey “indicated that he had fabricated documentation of his work.”

The development “proves once again that DOE must cheat and lie in order to make Yucca Mountain look safe,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.

The documents involved computer modeling for water infiltration and climate at the Yucca site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Nevada officials say water movement is critical in determining the possible spread of radiation from the proposed waste repository.

Bodman said the department was 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 documentation that meets appropriate quality assurance standards,” said Bodman. He said he was “greatly disturbed” by the development.

At a House hearing Wednesday, the official who recently took over the Yucca program in the Energy Department said the department remained “100 percent committed” to creating the permanent repository.

“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 Yucca Mountain.

Garrish was not asked to elaborate. After the hearing, he refused to answer reporters’ questions.

Statements from Bodman and Chip Groat, director of the Geological Survey, indicated that multiple scientists were involved but not how many. It wasn’t clear what the workers’ roles were or how they’ve been dealt with.

Hobson said the problem did not appear too serious and shouldn’t hurt Yucca Mountain.

“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.”

The documents were part of the papers required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to verify the accuracy of earlier work in the project.

The department has delayed filing its license application to the NRC and now acknowledges that completing the facility by 2010 no longer is possible. Garrish couldn’t provide a new completion date Wednesday.

Associated Press writers H. Josef Hebert in Washington and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

On the Net:

Yucca Mountain background: http://www.ocrwm.doe.gov/ymp/index.shtml

© 2005 The Associated Press