A new series of emails from scientists working on the Yucca Mountain project, reportedly found on a public database of documents, suggest the US Department of Energy (DoE) was aware the volcanic rock at the site could not prevent moisture transport as long as eight years ago.

According to comments attributed to Joe Egan, a Washington attorney representing Nevada in its bid to block the development, the emails detail a shift in the late 1990s away from a repository reliant on impermeable geological barriers to one that relied on engineered barriers, such as metal waste containers.

Reportedly, a 1997 message from department scientist Larry Rickertsen, titled Real Trouble Ahead, says: “The answer is clearer than ever. Engineering has to do the job.”

Egan is thought to have discovered the emails by using the word ‘falsification’ in a search of the DoE’s database.

“They (the emails) show the site not only flunked but it flunked spectacularly and there is nothing they can do to stop it,” Egan is quoted as saying.

However, a DoE spokesperson said the emails only demonstrate an ongoing collaborative scientific process.

If the project moves into a Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing hearing, Nevada officials plan to use the emails to resurrect arguments challenging the basis for selecting the Yucca Mountain site.

Meanwhile, Nevada Representative Shelley Berkley has asked president George Bush to call off work on Yucca Mountain following the recent revelations that workers had allegedly falsified key findings with regard to water transport on the site. Berkley concluded: “To maintain the integrity of this project, it is necessary that an independent entity conduct a comprehensive review, prior to licence application submission, of all documentation citing key scientific findings and research addressing safety compliance of the proposed repository.”

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