Interior turns down request for testimony from Yucca scientists

WASHINGTON - Three scientists involved with e-mails about falsifying documents on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump won't be made available to testify before a congressional panel, the Interior Department said Friday.

The department's U.S. Geological Survey also released a letter from the panel that reveals the scientists' names for the first time.

The letter sent Thursday by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., requests the presence of Joe A. Hevesi, Alan L. Flint and Lorraine E. Flint "to meet with subcommittee staff regarding statements contained in the e-mails in question."

Porter's House Government Reform federal work force and agency organization subcommittee has been investigating the e-mails, written between 1998 and 2000 and made public by the Energy Department last month, that show Yucca Mountain workers discussing concocting facts and keeping two sets of figures, one for themselves and one to show quality assurance officers.

In one e-mail a USGS scientist wrote: "I don't have a clue when these programs were installed. So I've made up the dates and names. ... This is as good as it's going to get. If they need more proof, I will be happy to make up more stuff."

Only redacted versions of the e-mails have been made public so it's impossible to tell what role Hevesi or the Flints had, and subcommittee staff declined to elaborate. All are listed on USGS Web sites as research hydrologists in Sacramento, Calif. Messages left on their office voice-mails were not immediately returned Friday.

The Flints share a home number in Davis, Calif.

The FBI and the inspectors general at the Interior and Energy departments are investigating the possibility of fraudulent work on the nuclear waste dump planned for 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The Interior Department cited the investigations in turning down Porter's request for the scientists' presence at a hearing set for next Wednesday.

"Given the potentially serious implications for the employees involved, the department believes it is inappropriate to require the individuals identified by the subcommittee to testify in a public hearing about the matters under active investigation," said a letter sent to Porter on Friday by Matt Eames, director of the Interior Department's office of congressional and legislative affairs.

Chad Bungard, deputy staff director and chief counsel for Porter's panel, said the subcommittee was evaluating how to respond. He said subpoenas were a last resort.

The workers who wrote the e-mails were studying how water moved through the desert site where the government wants to store 77,000 tons of commercial and defense nuclear waste for at least 10,000 years. The USGS validated Energy Department conclusions that water seepage was relatively slow, so radiation would be less likely to escape.

Hevesi and the Flints are listed on a Lawrence Berkeley Lab Web site as co-authors of a report on water infiltration at Yucca.


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