DOE failing to make
case for Yucca Mountain, says key NRC official
documentation faces scrutiny
- Outrage of the Week
DOE failing to make case for Yucca Mountain, says key NRC
Citing persistent management and quality control
problems after years of failed fixes, a key official with the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) believes that the U.S. Department of Energy
(DOE) is failing to build a strong case to support burying the nation's
high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las
John Greeves, director of the NRC's Waste Management Division, said
a series of reforms appear to be having no effect and are leaving the DOE
"stumbling" to meet a December 2004 deadline for submitting a nuclear
waste repository application to the NRC.
Speaking to DOE officials, Greeves said, "It's all about outcomes,
and we're going to have to verify the outcomes, and so far it's not
there." He then called on DOE officials to write the NRC a
letter within 30 days, "telling us what you're going to do differently."
"The issues that John Greeves brought to light are the types of
issues that, cumulatively, should raise red flags all over the NRC,"
said Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for
Nuclear Projects. "These quality-assurance issues are at the heart
of the entire Yucca Mountain project, and should have a major bearing in
the licensing process."
In order to qualify for a license, DOE must painstakingly verify
all of its activities. However, Greeves said, "Over the years the
(DOE) has attempted initiatives to correct these problems but there
hasn't been follow through. Anyone who has watched this project has
a large collection of these initiatives on their shelf."
Greeves noted that repairs on computer modeling and software
development that were identified two years ago have yet to completed.
"Quality is just not being built into the product," he said. "The
project's track record shows that schedules overcome quality."
Mountain documentation faces scrutiny
to license the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository 100
miles northwest of Las Vegas is coming under scrutiny, prompting a private
project contractor to audit several years' worth of paperwork associated
with the repository.
The project's latest
paperwork snafu began in January, after managers with Bechtel SAIC found
recurring data management problems over the last four to six years.
Knowing the problem could undermine its ability to defend data
supposedly supporting the safety of Yucca Mountain, DOE began
investigating the matter in April.
"This is just the
latest in a string of problems that call into question the efficacy and
ultimate safety of DOE's plan to make Yucca Mountain the nation's nuclear
waste dump," said Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada
Agency for Nuclear Projects.
"At the very least,
it is sloppy work," Loux continued. "And at worst, it puts DOE in a
position where it cannot adequately defend the data which it believes
supports its plans. To that extent, any and all data previously
compiled is suspect."
In March, DOE issued
a "stop work" order on a segment of the Yucca Mountain program after
auditors discovered flaws in procedure-writing. A subsequent audit
conducted by Bechtel found that the contractor failed to update procedures
directing scientists and technicians on what is necessary to document
The auditors also
found improper documentation on sign-offs of procedure changes; in one
case, a Bechtel manager pre-signed approval sheets for 97 procedures
before their preparation was complete.
spokesperson said workers sought shortcuts to simplify what appeared to be
routine work after feeling pressured to complete the task.
"This type of
clerical sleight-of-hand is unacceptable under any circumstances, but
especially when we're talking about plans to dump 77,000 metric tons of
high-level nuclear waste in our back yards," Loux said.
Kraft Comments to NRC:
Leave DOE alone
enough that DOE continues to cover up major shortcomings in its quality
assurance program for Yucca Mountain and punish project personnel who have
the audacity to bring such problems to light. But the commercial
nuclear power industry wants to go even further in sweeping deficiencies
under the rug.
an executive with the Nuclear Energy Institute, the public relations and
lobbying arm of the nuclear industry, told a meeting of the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission on April 17th that NRC should stop
pressing DOE for answers to some 293 unresolved technical issues related
to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and permit DOE to
decide for itself what issues are important enough to warrant
comments are just the latest in the nuclear industry’s continuing assault
on health and safety regulations and requirements that are perceived as
impediments to fast-tracking Yucca Mountain. The industry long
advocated DOE’s abandonment of the original site evaluation guidelines,
recognizing that under those guidelines, Yucca Mountain would have had to
be disqualified as a repository site.
has for years fought proposals to require spent fuel shipping casks to be
physically tested full scale instead of the computer tests that are
presently required. (NASA recently found out the hard way about the
shortcomings of computer simulations in predicting performance of complex
fought the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed radiation exposure
limits for Yucca Mountain, favoring a much less stringent standard.
after the events of September 11th, the industry continues to
work behind the scenes to discourage NRC from addressing the State of
Nevada’s petition asking that regulations governing the safeguarding of
spent fuel shipments against terrorism and sabotage be
There is a
certain irony in Kraft’s comments that bears illumination. The NRC
has bent over backwards (some would say rolled over) to smooth the way for
DOE’s Yucca Mountain license application. Collusion between DOE and
NRC has been occurring for years and is even the subject of litigation on
the part of the State of Nevada. For Kraft to contend that NRC’s
overt assistance to DOE is hampering the progress of the license
application is laughable.
and the industry really object to is the need for DOE to spend any of its
resources pursuing health and safety issues. What they want is for
DOE to get to work designing and building the repository in the shortest
amount of time and at the least cost. Damn the torpedoes … .
Who cares if
questions remain about the ability of Yucca Mountain to keep deadly
nuclear waste out of the environment and away from people? If the
facility leaks in a few hundred years or a few thousand years, so
what? It’s the bottom line that counts, and the industry’s bottom
line is to build a repository now to help foster the illusory resurgence
of nuclear power.
precisely this type of short-sighted thinking that has led to the current
public skepticism and distrust about things nuclear. If Kraft
was smart, he would be demanding stricter NRC oversight and even stricter
health and safety requirements for Yucca Mountain. That would be in
the long-term interests of the industry.
that would be very much out of character for the nuclear power
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