Pahrump Valley Times

July 2,1999

YMP stand-down ordered after mishap

Henry Breen

A mishap that could have been fatal for a crew at Yucca Mountain may halt construction activity at the project for several weeks.

Sometime last week, workers from Yucca Mountain subcontractor MK inadvertently struck an underground power conduit while drilling 11-foot holes for a lightning protection system just outside the U.S. Department of Energy's Exploratory Studies Facility, a 25-foot-tall tunnel extending five miles through the mountain. No one was injured, but the conduit was damaged and several electrical breakers were tripped.

According to Allen Benson, spokesman fur DOE, a safety stand-down was ordered at the site on June 24 so the incident can be investigated. Benson said it appears to have been caused by someone failing to follow the familiar public service announcement that urges people to "Call Before You Dig."

While the stand-down applies to construction activities at Yucca Mountain It will not stop scientific work there, Benson said. Approximately 280-300 people are employed on the project, and Benson estimated that fewer than half would be affected by the stand-down. "No one is being laid off," he said. "They'll just be working on the safety review instead of drilling."

Benson said the review could last "a couple of weeks. We need to determine what happened, why It happened." DOE and its contractors at the site will also review their procedures to see If they sufficiently address the incident, and institute training courses to ensure that "workers understand those procedures."

Lee Bradshaw, manager of Nye County's Department of Natural Resources and Federal Facilities, said that in his experience such safety stand-downs are "very unusual" for the project. The lightning rods were being Installed to protect a conveyor belt that runs out of the tunnel.

Yucca Mountain, 20 miles east of Beatty, is the only site currently being studied as a permanent repository for the nation's high-level radioactive waste. The stand-down comes about a month before DOE is scheduled to release Its Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain, The public comment period for the EIS is expected to last until the end of October, and there will be at least one public meeting held In Nye County after the enormous document is released.

Benson said that. to his knowledge, there has never been a fatality related to work on the Yucca Mountain Project.