Leaked Report Blasts Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Site

WASHINGTON, DC, November 30, 2001 - The draft version of a congressional investigation leaked to reporters is hypercritical of the U.S. Department of Energy for using incomplete information as a basis for its recommendation to entomb nuclear waste inside Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the only site being considered as a permanent repository for thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel now stored at power reactors across the country.

Yucca Mtn

Yucca Mountain (Photos courtesy DOE)
After five years of scientific studies, the Yucca Mountain site recommendation is expected from the Department of Energy this winter, but in its draft report, the General Accounting Office (GAO) recommends that the energy agency delay its recommendation indefinitely.

U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley said today, "This report has potential to derail the Yucca Mountain project altogether. It details the shocking bias and mismanagement that Nevadans have been alleging for years. This is the smoking gun we've been looking for."

Berkley and Senator Harry Reid, both Nevada Democrats, commissioned the report from the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative branch, after they received what they call "an anonymous whistleblower letter" earlier this year.

The final official version of the GAO report on Yucca Mountain is not supposed to be out until the middle of next month, a GAO spokesperson said. But the preliminary draft says the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) "is unlikely to achieve its goal of opening a repository at Yucca Mountain by 2010 and has no reliable estimate of when, and at what cost, such a repository could be opened."

This information would not be complete until 2006 at the earliest, the GAO says.


Deep inside Yucca Mountain, scientists conduct tests to determine whether radioactivity would leak into the environment.
The report characterizes the Energy Department's work to determine whether Yucca Mountain can safely contain spent nuclear fuel from the nation's 103 nuclear power plants as "a failed scientific process" that has resulted in continual changes to the site suitability criteria.

"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," Senator Reid said. "This report could very well signal the beginning of the end of the Yucca Mountain project." But Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called the preliminary GAO report "fatally flawed."

In a letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker today, Abraham says he was disturbed by the premature leak of the report which he says "significantly, if not irreversibly, taints the work product of any inquiry by GAO or any other investigative body."


U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham
"In the normal course of events," Abraham wrote," DOE would have had an opportunity to formally comment on its deficiencies, allowing GAO to correct its work product. Our interactions with your staff on this inquiry and the inappropriate, premature release of the draft report reinforce my concern that it was assembled to support a predetermined conclusion."

Abraham notes that Reid and Berkley have "a long history of strong opposition to the Yucca Mountain project."


Congresswoman Shelly Berkley (Photo courtesy Office of the Representative)
The GAO report found that the Energy Department 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 fumed. "Apparently, the DOE is actually suppressing science at the expense of the health and safety of Nevadans and all Americans."

GAO investigators were told by Yucca Mountain project managers that hundreds of technical issues remain to be resolved before a license application for the repository can be filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Visit the DOE's Yucca Mountain Project at: http://www.ymp.gov