Nevada lawyer says e-mails show Yucca Mountain ‘flunked’ test
LAS VEGAS – A new set of e-mails written by Yucca Mountain employees shows the Energy Department knew the project “flunked” because the volcanic rock formation couldn’t live up to its scientific billing, an attorney for Nevada said.
E-mails found on a public database of documents supporting the Energy Department’s plan to request a license to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain show how scientists concluded the mountain couldn’t block moisture as planned.
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 said the messages provide details about how program managers and scientists decided to change the rules in the late 1990s, shifting the program away from what Congress had directed them to find – a repository reliant on natural rock barriers to keep water away from nuclear waste – to one that relied heavily on engineered barriers, such as high-tech metal waste containers.
“They (the e-mails) show the site not only flunked but it flunked spectacularly and there is nothing they can do to stop it,” said Joe Egan, a Washington attorney representing the state in its fight against Yucca Mountain.
An Energy Department spokeswoman said the e-mails only demonstrate an ongoing collaborative scientific process.
“As part of the license application that DOE is developing and will submit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we will thoroughly outline the safety basis for Yucca Mountain,” department spokeswoman Anne Womack Kolton said.
Egan said his staff discovered the e-mails by searching the Energy Department’s database using the word “falsification” since the department announced last month it discovered U.S. Geological Survey employees might have fabricated scientific data.
While the new e-mails are different from those written by USGS employees and now under investigation by the Energy and Interior Departments and the FBI, Egan said they are just as important and provide ammunition to the state’s fight against the proposed repository.
In September 1997, one scientist urged another to stop clinging to the notion that Yucca’s rock tunnel walls could isolate waste, telling him that Yucca Mountain itself “cannot do the job.”
“I know you are trying to dodge the geologic disposal problem, and steering clear of fatal flaw type concerns,” the scientist wrote. “But the simple fact is that the only purpose of the natural system now is to provide a benign environment for the engineering.”
If the project moves into a Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing hearing, Egan said Nevada officials will use the e-mails to resurrect arguments challenging the basis for selecting Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The commission ultimately will decide whether the site is safe, and whether to grant a license to the Energy Department.