The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) has grown accustomed to earthquakes shaking the walls of its Yucca MountainProject (YMP) facilities in Nevada. But jolts of a different sort have struck the YMP recently. Glaring Las Vegas Review-Journal (RJ) newspaper headlines have reported harassment of whistleblowers trying to call attention to lapses on science and safety, and an anonymous letter sent to U.S. Senator Harry Reid alleging that 50% of Yucca’s scientific data is missing.
(578.5466) NIRS – The RJ reported on 24 November that two quality assurance specialists were ousted to silence concerns about Yucca’s safety. U.S. Labor Dept. investigators have affirmed that the mistreatment may have been meant to silence employee concerns that the YMP sacrificed science and safety to meet imminent deadlines in the rush leading up to DOE site recommendation and Congressional approval earlier this year.
Robert Clark, Mattimoe’s co-worker, was transferred after being told by a DOE official to “take [a hit] for the project.”YMP quality assurance specialist Jim Mattimoe reported to DOE’s Lake Barrett, in charge of Project oversight, that Yucca Mountain’s employee concerns program was corrupt, casting doubt on the credibility of investigations dating back a decade. Alleged corruption included the withholding of evidence, and attributing statements to employees who had never actually been interviewed to make it appear that concerns were resolved. Mattimoe was then summarily fired, apparently at Lake Barrett’s urging, according to a Labor Dept. report that called Barrett’s actions “extraordinarily egregious.” The Labor Dept. has ordered that Mattimoe be reinstated, his record cleared, and his costs reimbursed.
In response to these revelations, Nevada’sU.S. Senators, Harry Reid and John Ensign, fired off a letter to the General Accounting Office (the investigatory agency of Congress) on 25 November, demanding a full-scale investigation of DOE intimidation of employees trying to call attention to YMP technical deficiencies.
Reid also requested an investigation into allegations contained in an anonymous whistleblower’s letter sent to him that “Currently as much as 50 percent of the data used to support the site recommendation of the Yucca Mountain Project is lost,” and that “NRC is aware of this.”
Bill Belke, a now-retired veteran of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) with 28 years experience, expressed no surprise at the allegations of missing data. As resident NRC inspector at Yucca for 7 years, Belke documented “significant problems” with: the qualifications (or lack thereof) of technical workers; companies providing calibration services for scientific studies; data collection; software complications; documentation of data quality; the ability of quality assurance employees to do their job; and a lack of accountability.
This is quite disconcerting, for DOE’s early 2002 site recommendation, which President Bush and Congress approved over Nevada’s objections, was based on the supposed integrity of YMP data concerning such issues as earthquake and volcanic activity and groundwater flow. Unfortunately, Bemke also encountered a lack of support from his superiors in NRC management levels. This is distressing, in that the NRC is supposed to serve as the objective, unbiased agency deciding upon whether or not to grant DOE an operating license to open Yucca.
For more background on the Yucca Mountain project, see the NIRS web site (www.nirs.org) or the following articles:WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 571.5423, “Senate approves Yucca; fight is far from over….”, WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 564.5381, “Yucca Mountain update” and WISE News Communique 550.5287, “Yucca Mountain nuke dump update”.
- Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Yucca Mountain Project workers say site problems kept quiet,” Nov. 24, 2002
- “Yucca: Missing data ‘no surprise’ “, Nov. 28, 2002. Some of the federal documents cited by the RJ were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Contact: Kevin Kamps at NIRS (firstname.lastname@example.org)