The Battle Mountain Bugle

January 3, 2002

GAO report slams Yucca Mountain project

By Dave Woods
Humboldt Sun Staff Writer

Opponents of locating a high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain are pointing out that a recent federal General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation is a serious set back the project. Nevada Senator Harry Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley said that preliminary findings of a federal investigation have covered serious flaws in the Yucca Mountain project.

They noted that initial reports from the GAO indicate that the Department of Energy (DOE) is using incomplete information as a basis for their Yucca Mountain site recommendation, and has no reliable estimate of when, and at what cost, such a repository could be opened.

"For more than a decade I've said science was taking a back seat to politics, and based on this report it appears as though the DOE has thrown science off the back of the bus," Reid said. "This report could very well signal the beginning of the end of the Yucca Mountain project."

Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa said that the GAO report recommends that the Yucca Mountain project be indefinitely postponed.

That report comes on the heels of an internal DOE report by Inspector General Giegory H. Friedman that detailed rampant high level conflict of interest by the DOE's lead legal firm for the Yucca Mountain project.

Reid said the Inspector General's investigation uncovered that the law firm of Winston and Strawn, while under contract to the DOE to monitor the nuclear waste selection process, also had close ties and lobbied on behalf of the Nuclear Energy Institute. The Nuclear Energy Institute is identified in the report as a prune supporter of the Yucca Mountain site for storage of the nation's radioactive waste. "It is a clear conflict of interest," Nevada Senator John Ensign said. "The law firm is going to be in a lot of trouble."

Del Papa said that she has learned that the DOE has since fired Winston and Strawn.

"My office feels a tremendous sense of vindication over the Winston conflict issue," she said, "From the beginning we believed that not only is Yucca Mountain a technically unsuitable site for a highlevel nuclear waste repository, but the project itself has been tainted by conflicts of interest at the highest level," she noted.

Del Papa said the two reports should result in the government abandoning its efforts to force Nevada to accept the nation's nuclear waste. '

"Now with both the GAO report and the Inspector General's report, our perceptions are being supported in both respects," Del Papa pointed out. She said the reports were additional ammunition in the state's fight against the Yucca Mountain site.

"We are preparing to go to the mat with DOE in any forum to protect Nevadans from this ill conceived project," Del Papa added.

Berkley said that the GAO report could be the final nail in the coffin for the project. "This report has the potential to derail the Yucca Mountain project altogether," she said. "It details the shocking bias and mismanagement that Nevadans have been alleging for years. This is the smoking gun we've been looking for."

As a result of an anonymous whistle-blower letter sent earlier this year, Reid and Berkley asked the GAO to investigate whether the DOE could support a Yucca Mountain site recommendation, which the agency was expected to make early next year, and if DOE's goal of opening a repository at Yucca Mountain by 2010 is reasonable.

They said that preliminary reports from the GAO investigation reveal that the DOE does not currently have the information it would need to make a responsible site recommendation, that the information would not be complete until 2006 at the earliest; and that the agency delay recommendation indefinitely.

Additionally, the report found that DOE is unlikely to achieve its goal of opening a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain by 2010, and puts a best estimate at no earlier than 2015.

"The DOE has wasted $8 billion of taxpayers' money on this project, and still isn't using sound science as a basis for their recommendations," Reid added. "Apparently, the DOE is actually suppressing science at the expense of the health and safety of Nevadans and all Americans."

Del Papa charged that the DOE has failed in its mission and has been contaminated by conflicts. "By law the DOE is charged with protecting the public's health and safety," she said. "The agency can not offer any assurances to the public concerning a project that, according to GAO, bears little resemblance to a repository that would ultimately be constructed."

Del Papa also observed that the GAO report is a setback for DOE's plans to fast track the project. "DOE can not resolve the serious technical flaws in the project," she noted.

"It appears, now more than ever, that the DOE is simply not ready to make a site recommendation - due to the lack of sufficient technical information to support such a recommendation.

Berkley said as a result of the two reports, the DOE should rethink its approach to long-term nuclear waste storage. "Maybe now we can, finally make progress on finding real, long-term solutions to the problem of nuclear waste," she said.