Yucca Mountain Update -- A Publication of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects

Volume 1 Issue 13 ~ July 11, 2003





- Report: DOE wasted millions failing to coordinate cask development

- Public interest groups seek probe into possible nuke waste cask flaws

- Outrage of the Week

Report: DOE wasted millions failing to coordinate cask development
Recently-released results of a federal audit have found that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) may have have wasted millions of        dollars by failing to coordinate development of nuclear waste        canisters.

Investigators have determined that, beginning in the mid-1990s, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, the Hanford site in Washington state and the DOE program that manages nuclear waste from naval reactors simultaneously developed three different spent nuclear fuel canisters.  In addition, the naval reactor program and the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management each were acquiring different shipping casks to transport waste to a high-level repository being planned at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

In an 11-page report issued by DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman, auditors concluded that substantial cost reductions could have been realized through greater coordination and consolidation of these activities.  By eliminating redundancies and streamlining efforts, DOE could have saved "a significant portion" of $13.8 million spent on designing the multi-ton containers, the report said.

"The results of this audit underscore the fact that DOE is continuing to waste wasting incredible sums of taxpayer dollars on a program that has no scientific merit," said Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

The investigation, which took place between April and December 2002, also found that canisters that store nuclear waste on an interim basis at Hanford were not designed for use in disposal, raising the possibility that the spent fuel may have to be repackaged for burial at Yucca Mountain.

Public interest groups seek probe into possible nuke        waste cask flaws
The public interest groups Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service have called for an investigation into allegations of       flaws in nuclear waste casks designed by a prominent nuclear       services firm.

In a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) independent inspector general, the groups argued that audits conducted in 2000 uncovered nine quality assurance problems suggesting that dry storage casks designed by New Jersey-based Holtec International and fabricated by contractor U.S. Tool & Die, may not match government design specifications.

A member of the audit team has alleged the NRC failed to address the safety issues after he brought them to the agency's attention in December 2001.

In their letter, the groups asked the NRC's independent inspector general to investigate whether the agency was "appropriately responsive to public safety concerns."

The audit raises questions whether casks loaded with nuclear fuel will perform as expected if involved in accidents, according to Public Citizen policy analyst Lisa Gue. Shirani's audit turned up possible welding violations, brittle materials, damages to neutron shielding and falsified quality assurance documents, the groups said.

"If plans go forward for the Private Fuel Storage (in Utah) and Yucca Mountain and the NRC is banking on analysis that has a questionable correspondence to reality, that raises questions whether the NRC is operating in La-La Land," Gue said.

Nevada-hired experts have begun to examine claims for possible implications for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, which will require casks to ship nuclear waste 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The Department of Energy has not yet selected cask designs for the Yucca projects although Holtec is expected to be among the companies bidding.

"We have looked at the general issue of the implications of a failure to follow quality assurance procedures if a cask were to be involved in an accident," Nevada transportation consultant Robert Halstead said. "Now we will look at the specific allegations on Holtec.

"It's a very valid issue," Halstead added. "A whistle-blower raising questions about how a fabricator is dealing with QA procedures is important."

Outrage of
the Week

  It’s the Money,


Recent action by the U.S. House of Representatives’ energy and water appropriations subcommittee to give the Department of Energy millions of dollars more than even the President requested for DOE’s Yucca Mountain program in FY 2004 is exactly the kind of thing Will Rogers had in mind when he posed the question, “If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”

At the same time that revelations are surfacing – new ones almost weekly – about major deficiencies in the quality of DOE’s Yucca Mountain work, whistleblower allegations regarding cover-ups and worker intimidation, millions wasted on cask development, challenges to DOE’s assertions about Yucca Mountain’s ability to safely contain deadly nuclear waste, and assorted instances of mismanagement and questionable science, the House subcommittee is proposing to throw more money at DOE in hopes of, if not solving, at least papering over the problems.


Ironically, it is the very people who have created the massive quality assurance and other problems for the Yucca Mountain project – the army of contractors and subcontractors DOE uses to run the program – who stand to benefit from the outpouring of congressional largesse, should the House subcommittee’s ill-advised funding proposal survive further legislative action.  Like through a financial sieve, the new-found funds would be passed through DOE directly to these contractors in what has become the largest corporate welfare program in the nation, rewarding shoddy work and poor science.


Federal agencies (and their contractors) often use the concept of “just in time” decision-making and implementation in carrying out their activities – i.e., not doing things too soon or too late to assure maximum benefit.  For DOE and it’s assorted hangers-on, there is certainly a “just in time” aspect to the House proposal.  With the threat of legal defeat looming over the Yucca Mountain program from the State of Nevada’s barrage of promising litigation, the thought of such a major and unexpected eleventh hour financial windfall is sure to have DOE’s contractors salivating. 


The House subcommittee’s action is sure to encourage even greater irresponsibility and waste in a program has, from the beginning, been characterized by massive cost escalations and fiscal and programmatic mismanagement.  Putting Will Roger’s thesis to the test hardly seems necessary to prove the point.

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