Statement of Senator Harry Reid
Before the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform
“Yucca Mountain Project: Have Federal Employees Falsified Documents?”
April 5, 2005
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate you holding this hearing today to discuss the falsification of documents by federal employees regarding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project.
The announcement on March 16 that federal employees falsified documents and models about water infiltration at Yucca Mountain is of grave concern. Also, several Department of Energy employees have raised questions on e-mail about the accuracy of certain scientific instruments used in the evaluation of project.
Senator Ensign and I have demanded that the Department of Energy and all contractors suspend all work related to the license application for Yucca Mountain project. The Department should wait until the investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, the Inspector Generals at the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior into the falsified documents is completed. It is clear that scientific malpractice has occurred and fundamental questions about the quality, validity and integrity of the scientific review and quality assurance processes associated with the project must first be answered.
The Yucca Mountain has been plagued by quality assurance problems for years. On April 30, 2004, the Government Accountability Office issued a report on the quality assurance problems with the project. The GAO found that the DOE “have not solved the quality assurance problems or corrected management weaknesses, and that future actions are needed . . . and the quality assurance problems could delay the licensing process.”
There are several significant events that have taken place over the last year regarding Yucca Mountain. Here are some of the highlights:
On July 9, 2004 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the people of Nevada in an argument to stop the Yucca Mountain project. The court decided that EPA’s radiation standard for the site is not stringent enough to protect the public from the significant risks associated with nuclear waste and failed to follow the recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences.
On August 31, 2004 the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected DOE’s Yucca Mountain document database, saying it had failed to make public many of the documents that it had in its possession.
The Licensing Board said, “Given the 15 years that DOE had to gather, review, and produce its documents and the fact that the date of production, and the incompleteness of its privilege review, it is clear to us that DOE did not meet its obligation, in good faith, to make all reasonable efforts to make all documentary materials available.”
On October 4, 2004, the DOE Inspector General found that DOE gave away more than $500,000 worth of Yucca Mountain construction equipment in 2003. Half a million dollars in most people’s lives is a lot of money.
On November 22, 2004 the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board said DOE does not have a plan for safely transporting nuclear waste to the proposed repository.
On February 7, 2005 Dr. Margaret Chu, most recently the Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Nuclear Waste, said the project would be delayed until 2012 and DOE’s license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would not be filed until December, a year after the application was expected to have been filed.
On February 8, 2005 the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board called for hearings next month to review concerns over the corrosion of the titanium drip shields that are intended to keep water from leaking into casks inside Yucca Mountain.
On February 28, 2005, a DOE official said the proposed Yucca Mountain repository may not open until 2017.
It should be obvious to everyone now that Yucca Mountain isn’t going anywhere. It is abundantly clear that there is no such thing as sound science at Yucca Mountain.
Given DOE’s abysmal Yucca Mountain track record, I am confident they will be unable to meet the delayed deadline. I do not believe Yucca Mountain will ever open, and Nevada and our nation will be safer for our successful efforts to stop the project.
Similarly, it is also true that DOE have not studied the transportation issues and there are no assurances that DOE can do any of this safely.
I do not understand how DOE can consider beginning a licensing process for the repository when you do not even know how you would transport all this waste or if you can even do this safely. There is no way to guarantee the health and safety of Nevadans or any other Americans.
I also believe it is time to look at other nuclear waste storage alternatives.
One option is for the federal government take responsibility for the nuclear waste at the reactor sites. This is the right thing to do. I believe nuclear waste should be transferred from spent nuclear fuel pools into dry storage casks and the Department of Energy to take title and responsibility for the waste.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing and I would be happy to answer any questions.