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

Volume 1 Issue 12 ~ June 13, 2003





- Study: DOE overstating economic benefits of nuclear projects in New Mexico

- Nevada's senators accuse DOE of silencing Yucca Mountain witnesses at field hearing

- Outrage of the Week

Study: DOE overstating economic benefits of nuclear
projects in New Mexico

A recently-released study of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) claims
about the economic benefits of several nuclear projects in New Mexico
are “greatly exaggerated” and “misleading (to) the public and lawmakers,” and could foreshadow similar claims being made in Nevada about the
proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository. 

The study, conducted by Lloyd Dumas, a professor of economics and political economy at the University of Texas at Dallas on behalf of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, determined that DOE overstated its total economic impact of $10 billion by as much as $6 billion.  Dumas also found that DOE exaggerated its impact on wages by as much as $1.25 billion and its impact on jobs by as many as 45,000 full time positions.


“Furthermore,” Dumas wrote, “it is even possible that DOE may actually be harming the State due to the added burden its activities place on New Mexico’s infrastructure, as well as the potential economic development gains the State is foregoing as a result of DOE’s focus on military-related rather than civilian-oriented research and development.”


Reacting to the findings, Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said Nevada should be wary of any pie-in-the-sky claims DOE may make about the economic benefits of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, planned 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.


“Clearly, DOE has grossly over-inflated its claims of economic benefits for New Mexico,” Loux said.  “This should serve as a wake-up call for Nevadans who believe we should stop our legal fight against Yucca Mountain and instead accept pay-offs from the federal government in exchange for warehousing the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.”


“The truth is,” Loux continued, “if Yucca Mountain is licensed and begins accepting radioactive waste, Nevada will likely be put in the same no-win position as New Mexico, with little if anything to show in return.”


Dumas in his study analyzed economic multipliers (a measure of both direct and indirect economic benefits) DOE used to assert that expanded activities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Sandia National Laboratories, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant would greatly improve New Mexico’s economic viability.


In the last economic study DOE performed, in 1999, it claimed that for each dollar it spent in New Mexico, it generated an additional $2.39 for New Mexico’s economy.  DOE made similar claims in intervening years, even though it conducted no studies to support those claims.


Based on that claim, DOE maintained that its aggregate economic impact in New Mexico during 1999 was $10.24 billion.  It also claimed that it generated $2.89 billion in personal income in 1998 and created 72,453 jobs in 1998, including those positions directly employed at DOE facilities (about 20,000 people).


However, by adjusting DOE’s economic multipliers downward (based on data developed in seven independent reports for regions and activities similar to those in New Mexico), Dumas found that DOE’s economic impact actually was between $4 billion and $6 billion.  Dumas also determined that personal income was actually between $1.63 billion and $2.42 billion, and employment was a more realistic 27,289 to 40,418 jobs.


DOE was unable to provide accurate data to Dumas for his study, leading him to use numbers gleaned from reports written by the State of Nevada, the University of Alaska, University of Arkansas, University of Oklahoma, University of Missouri, KPMG Peat Marwick (for an Intel plant in Rio Rancho, N.M.), and a joint study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas and the Korea Local Administration Institute in Seoul, South Korea.


Dumas found that all seven reports determined that the private sector tends to yield economic multipliers in the range of 1.5 to 2.0, and further determined that the public sector tends to have multipliers of less than 1.5.  In contrast, DOE claimed multipliers of between 2.4 and 3.5 for fiscal year 1998.


“Presuming that these corrected multipliers are more accurate,” Dumas wrote, “the clear implication is that the DOE activities offer no net gain.  It is even possible that there is a significant net loss to (New Mexico) as compared to the economic impacts of private activities of comparable scale, if such private sector activities can be recruited to replace them.”


He noted as an example that the New Mexico Environment Department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau in 2002 spent $860,000 in state funds on environmental regulation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  “It is reasonable to expect further extensive costs associated with the Sandia National Laboratories with this Bureau alone,” Dumas added.

Nevada's senators accuse DOE of silencing Yucca Mountain witnesses at field hearing
Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign this week said the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) prevented a pair of witnesses from testifying at a field hearing in Las Vegas on quality assurance problems facing the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Reid (D-Nev.), who organized the hearing that was conducted by the Senate's energy and water subcommittee, said the witnesses wanted to step forward with their accounts of mismanagement at the facility but were "afraid."

Reid was referring to former DOE quality assurance director Robert Clark and Donald Harris, an auditor for a Yucca Mountain Project quality assurance contractor, Navarro Research and Engineering.

Ensign (R-Nev.) also criticized the DOE for failing to resolve quality assurance issues uncovered by Harris' audit team before proceeding with plans to build the planned repository 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

"These are two witnesses who very much support the Yucca Mountain Project. No one could question their motives," Ensign said before the hearing accepted testimony from three other witnesses.  Those testifying at the hearing outlined a litany of problems with design of, collection of data from and predicting performance of the repository.

In his opening remarks, Ensign said DOE and its contractors prevented Harris and Clark in retaliation for their whistle-blowing efforts.  He and Reid vowed to get Clark's and Harris's concerns on the record, while saying they will investigate whether DOE or other government officials broke whistle-blower laws in squelching their testimony.

An Energy Department spokesman in Washington, D.C., Joe Davis, denied that the two scheduled witnesses had been discouraged from participating.

During the hearing, Bill Belke, a former senior on-site representative for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told the senators that DOE was slow in correcting problems with data, software and modeling at Yucca Mountain. He added that some actions taken by DOE officials effectively silenced workers at the facility.

Robin Nazzaro, director of natural resources and environment for the General Accounting Office, testified that 293 key technical issues ay Yucca Mountain were uncovered in the late 1990s, but only 77 had resolved as of April.  She described DOE's performance as "less than desirable."



Outrage of
the Week

DOE’s Yucca Mountain program may be rife with poor science, conflicts of interest, and questionable data supporting unsupportable conclusions, but there’s no shortage of imagination when it comes to covering up the project’s shortcomings. 


On the heels of whistleblower allegations and a congressional hearing about quality assurance deficiencies and other irregularities, DOE this week announced that, for homeland security reasons, it will be “editing” (read ‘sanitizing’) information to be provided to the State of Nevada and the public relative to any Yucca Mountain licensing proceeding before the Nuclear Regulator Commission.  So as not to give too much credit for creative thinking to DOE’s Yucca Mountain bureaucrats, it should be pointed out that hiding flaws and embarrassing revelations by stamping materials “classified” is something federal agencies have been doing, well, just about ever since there were federal agencies.


What makes DOE’s announcement so disturbing is the fact that it flies in the face of the clear mandates for openness and public acceptance that are foundational to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.  The Act clearly intended for repository siting, construction, and operations to be transparent and for the State of Nevada, affected units of local government and other stakeholders to have unfettered access to information about the site and about DOE’s plans the program.  Only in such a way could public acceptance of repository decisions be earned. 


While it’s hard to imagine what licensing information could possibly be so sensitive from a security point of view that it justifies it’s being withheld, DOE has plenty of reasons to fear the discovery process provided for in NRC’s regulations, as demonstrated again by this latest series of revelations and media stories.  In licensing, DOE is required to make any and all information supporting conclusions about repository performance available to Nevada as the principal intervener.  That means all of the potentially incriminating data, assumptions, and models DOE has used to rig performance calculations in order to demonstrate Yucca Mountain’s ability (or inability) to isolate waste and meet the EPA’s health protection standards. 


Invoking the Homeland Security Act as reason for sanitizing Yucca Mountain licensing information is unconscionable.  Instead of increasing security for current and future generations of Americans, what DOE is proposing will only ensure that potentially incriminating and dangerous flaws in the site and in DOE’s license application can be hidden, thereby allowing an otherwise unlicensable facility to slip through the last regulatory safety net established by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. 


To paraphrase a quote by journalist and author Russell Baker, usually terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress and, in this case, security requires them are not really progress or security at all, but just terrible things.  Resorting to the old national security trick is nothing less than a tacit admission that DOE really does have something to hide at Yucca Mountain, and it isn’t nuclear waste.


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