Emails point to falsified Yucca data

29 March 2005

The trouble-plagued US repository programme hit one more major pothole in mid-March when a Department of Energy (DoE) review of documents for the official licensing support database turned up a series of emails among scientists that discussed fabrication of information on the study of groundwater penetration at the Nevada site. Carried out by the US Geological Survey (USGS), the study is crucial to the store’s licence application.

The revelation so far has sparked three federal investigations. The inspector generals of both the DoE and the Department of Interior (DoI), USGS’ parent agency, have launched investigations, as has the USGS itself. However, neither the DoE nor USGS have released the emails in question.

The Nevada congressional delegation and state officials are calling for an investigation independent of any of the agencies involved. The state’s two senators, Harry Reid and John Ensign jointly sent a letter to US attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director, Robert Muellor, on 17 March asking them to “immediately intervene to protect and preserve any and all records” related to the Yucca Mountain programme held by the DoE, DoI, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or any of their contractors. Other state officials have suggested the need for an independent blue ribbon panel similar to the one set up to investigate the catastrophic failure of the Columbia space shuttle.

Robert Loux, director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said the Justice Department must secure the database because the revelations involve allegations of criminal activity.

Nevada’s Jon Porter, who chairs the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, has announced that his subcommittee would hold hearings on 5 April.

Scientific observers said it is hard to predict the impact of the revelations until the emails are released and there is an understanding of exactly what information was falsified. A spokesman for the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, set up by Congress to evaluate the technical basis for the repository programme, told NEI that the board will not have a clear picture of its potential role in the issue until the emails become available.

Another long-term observer of the programme, Allison Macfarlane from the security studies programme at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has written extensively on the repository effort, said much the same. Without the emails, it is impossible to know how pervasive the problem is, or what the implications are.

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