Emails and False Data At Nevada Nucleur Storage Yucca

E-Mail Shows False Claims About Tests at Nevada Nuclear Site


WASHINGTON, March 18 – Internal Energy Department e-mail messages written in preparation for seeking a license to open a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada show that the department made false claims about how it carried out its work.

For example, in 2000, James Raleigh, an Energy Department employee, pointed out in one message that records showed some instruments that were apparently used to measure conditions inside the mountain were certified as having been calibrated before the procedure was performed, and even before the equipment was received.

Mr. Raleigh wrote that approving the completion of a procedure on a piece of equipment not yet in hand "does not appear appropriate."

Other instruments, according to the messages, were used for months without calibration.

On Wednesday the energy secretary, Samuel W. Bodman, said an employee of the United States Geological Survey had written e-mail messages indicating that the employee had falsified some of his work and that others might also have falsified work. The messages further hinder the project to develop the repository, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The Energy Department has not released the U.S.G.S. e-mail messages or said who wrote them. But on Friday, Joseph Egan, a lawyer for the State of Nevada, which opposes the project, provided The New York Times with copies of the messages pointing to problems in documents being prepared for a license application. The problems appear to involve documents on quality control and quality assurance required by regulators to back up studies and conclusions about the suitability of the repository to contain the wastes for eons.

Mr. Raleigh, who is based in Las Vegas, wrote long messages to colleagues giving lists of anomalies and omissions.

One, written on June 15, 2000, pointed out that for two instruments commonly used in laboratories, a digital multimeter and a mass flow controller, calibration was approved before the calibration occurred or the instrument was delivered. (A multimeter is used to measure voltage or other characteristics of electricity, and is often used to maintain or check the performance of other equipment. A mass flow controller can monitor the flow or content of gases or liquids.)

The same e-mail message noted that another document, a record of procurement of equipment, "gives the appearance that it was falsified," because the first part, identifying the equipment, was dated in December 1997, but the next three parts were dated six months earlier.

Mr. Raleigh did not respond to a telephone message left on Friday. Anne Womack-Kolton, a spokeswoman at the Energy Department, said that Mr. Raleigh’s e-mails were a positive sign. She said that looking for errors was "the kind of quality-assurance procedures one would hope went on all the time." She added that the department would look into the specifics of the messages.

Ms. Womack-Kolton said that the investigation into the messages described by Mr. Bodman on Wednesday was still at an early stage. Those messages have not been released.

A consultant for Nevada who found Mr. Raleigh’s messages, Allen L. Messenger, said in a telephone interview, "This appears to be smoke, and where there’s smoke, there’s typically fire."

"You can’t calibrate a meter you don’t have," he added.

Joseph Egan, a lawyer representing Nevada, said the scientific work now thrown into question had been used in the process of recommending the site to President Bush. Mr. Bush accepted the recommendation and sent it on to Congress, which approved. But the decision may have been based on fraud, Mr. Egan said.

On Thursday the attorney general of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, asked the United States attorney general’s office to conduct an independent investigation and to secure the scientific database created by the department "to protect it from further manipulation." A spokesman for his office said he had not received a response.

At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Beth Hayden, a spokeswoman, said that the quality-assurance documentation was "supposed to give us confidence in the information." But Ms. Hayden said that her agency had not started evaluating the information because the application was not complete.

Even before the announcement Wednesday about the possible falsifications, the Energy Department was having trouble assembling the materials needed to apply for a license.

Under law, the department is supposed to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will decide based on rules created by the Environmental Protection Agency. The department had intended to apply by the end of 2004, but under regulatory commission rules it must post supporting materials on the Internet six months earlier. The department said in mid-2004 that it had done so, but later in the year the commission ruled that it had not.

Now the Energy Department says it will finish its application by the end of this year.

The delay in applying may not make any difference to the project’s timetable, however, because at the moment the regulatory commission has no standards to use in judging the application. The E.P.A. had written standards, but a federal appeals court threw them out last year and sent them back to the agency for re-writing.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top


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