One Hundred One North Carson Street
Carson City, Nevada 89701


February 7, 2000


The Honorable Bill Richardson
Secretary of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20585

Dear Secretary Richardson;

At the recent meeting of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board in Las Vegas, representatives from DOE's Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Office revealed that the cut-off date for new information and analyses to be utilized in the Yucca Mountain Site Recommendation Report was August, 1999. As you know, DOE's current schedule calls for the issuance of a Site Recommendation Consideration Report in November, 2000, followed by the statutorily-required Site Recommendation Report in July, 2001. I am very concerned that early cut-off of information for these reports will prevent consideration of crucial data that bears directly on the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a repository site.

Especially important in this regard are two studies DOE had a hand in initiating. The first is the joint research effort involving the University of Nevada Las Vegas, the State of Nevada, and DOE to study the composition and age of fluid inclusions found within faults and fractures in the repository host rock at Yucca Mountain. This research will determine if the fluid inclusions and the mineralized deposits in which they are found are hydrothermal in origin and, if so, how long ago this hydrothermal activity occurred. Findings from this study are critical to any determination about Yucca Mountain's suitability for radioactive waste isolation. However, the study is not scheduled to report findings until April, 2001 at the earliest.

Another ongoing research effort that bears directly on site suitability is the work being done by scientists as the California Institute of Technology regarding ground strain at and around Yucca Mountain. Two years ago, the Cal Tech researchers reported findings from analysis of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) data that revealed excessive stretching and bulging of the ground surface in the region that includes Yucca Mountain. If these findings are confirmed by ongoing follow-up research, they are likely to render Yucca Mountain unsuitable as a repository. The Cal Tech GPS research findings will not be available until later this year or early in 2001.

There are a number of other studies and research activities (such as the analysis of new material proposed for use in the design of the waste package for use at Yucca Mountain) that are ongoing and for which data will also not be available to inform the Site Recommendation Report. In addition, DOE has yet to settle on a final design for the repository facility. In fact, the design contained in the draft Yucca Mountain Environmental Impact Statement was obsolete by the time the draft EIS was released, and DOE keeps altering the repository design in an attempt to compensate for shortcoming with the physical environment of the site. As a result, the Site Recommendation Report must, under the current schedule, include a design that is out of date and not reflective of the actual facility proposed at Yucca Mountain.

If science and not politics is to be the deciding factor in making decisions about the Yucca Mountain site, DOE should revise the schedule for making a site recommendation until there is a final design for the repository and all of these crucial studies are complete and the data is in.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, clearly intended that the Secretary's recommendation to the President of a site for development as a repository be made only after site characterization is complete and all information important to site suitability has been evaluated. DOE's current schedule for the issuing the Site Recommendation Report clearly violates the letter and spirit of the Act.

Mr. Secretary, the decision whether or not to put Yucca Mountain forward as a suitable location for permanently disposing the nation's extremely toxic and long lived spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste is too important to be made with incomplete or inaccurate data. It will undoubtedly be one of the most momentous and far reaching decisions this nation will make. I urge you to insist that the site recommendation decision be fully informed by the complete set of available data, and that you not permit schedule pressures to dictate the level and quality of information available for the Site Recommendation Report.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration in this matter. I hope we get the opportunity to more fully discuss this issue when I am back in Washington for the National Governors' Association meeting at the end of this month.





Kenny C. Guinn

cc    Nevada congressional delegation