Yucca Mountain Project workers say site problems kept quiet

LAS VEGAS -- Some workers at the Yucca Mountain Project said there were flaws in the process scientists used to determine whether the site was suitable for disposing the nation's nuclear waste.

At least two workers claim they were either fired or transferred after raising concerns about the project's safety, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in its Sunday editions.

Robert Clark and Jim Mattimoe, both quality assurance specialists, said they were shoved aside so lingering problems would remain silent at Yucca.

U.S. Labor Department records show the men might have been mistreated because they believed the project was cutting corners to meet looming deadlines.

The Department of Energy earlier this year recommended that more than 77,000 tons of the nation's deadliest nuclear waste be buried at Yucca Mountain, located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

President Bush and Congress have since approved plans to build a repository at Yucca Mountain. The first shipment of nuclear waste could arrive in 2010.

Mattimoe, 52, said he was fired after he made allegations of wrongdoing and corruption to Lake Barrett. At the time, Barrett was in charge of the DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, which oversaw the Yucca Mountain Project.

Barrett declined to comment on Mattimoe's termination or Clark's transfer other than to say, "I'm personally satisfied with the actions that I took."

Mattimore said wrongdoing included withholding evidence and attributing statements to people who had never been interviewed about concerns with the project.

"The concerns program, which is much like an internal affairs division in a police department, is chartered to perform unbiased, independent investigations into any type of concern that could impact the safety of the project and the public," he said.

"I identified that the concerns program was corrupt and thereby raised questions about the credibility of all investigations for a period of nearly 10 years," Mattimoe said.

Mattimoe was fired by Navarro Research and Engineering, a quality assurance contractor hired by DOE.

A Labor Department investigator later determined that part of the reason Navarro fired Mattimoe was it had been urged to do so by Barrett. The inspector described Barrett's actions as "extraordinarily egregious."

In a Sept. 13 report, the Labor Department ordered Navarro to reinstate Mattimoe, expunge his personnel file and reimburse him for costs incurred.

The report states that Susana Navarro, president of Navarro Research and Engineering, was motivated to fire Mattimoe "at least in part to her fear that she might not receive future extensions or contracts with DOE unless she took this action."

Navarro is appealing the Labor Department ruling. Mattimoe now is working at the Los Alamos, N.M., national laboratory.

Susana Navarro said an audit by a prominent law firm found "among other things, that Mr. Mattimoe's conduct as a program manager for SAIC (the previous contractor) was inconsistent with a safety conscious work environment.

"I based my decision on the findings of this report, and I really believe that I did the right thing," she wrote.

But the Labor Department report says the law firm's audit is nothing more than a "sophisticated recitation of anonymous charges."

Some of the federal documents cited by the Review-Journal were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.


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