msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/16/2005 3:46:32 PM ET 2005-03-16T20:46:32

Government scientists may have falsified documents related to the $58 billion Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project in Nevada, the Energy Department revealed Wednesday. The development could jeopardize the controversial project, which is still being built and is the only repository for the nation's waste from commercial nuclear reactors.

E-mails from scientists involved in the project raise serious questions about the review process of scientific studies done six years ago, the energy department said.

The department said that during preparation for a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a number of e-mails were discovered, dating back to 1998 and 2000, in which an employee of the U.S. Geological Survey “indicated that he had fabricated documentation of his work.”

The questionable data involved computer modeling for water infiltration and climate at the Yucca site, located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

'Serious questions'
In a statement, USGS Director Chip Groat said that "serious questions have been raised about quality assurance practices performed in 1998-2000 by USGS scientists on the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository project for the Department of Energy.

"Two actions are under way to investigate these issues," he added. "First, I have referred the matter to the inspector general for action. Second, I have initiated an internal review of the allegations. Once the facts are known, appropriate actions will be taken. USGS remains committed to maintaining scientific excellence."

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the investigation would determine whether the scientific underpinnings of the project are affected.

“If in the course of that review any work is found to be deficient, it will be replaced or supplemented with analysis and documents that meet appropriate quality assurance standards,” said Bodman. He said he was “greatly disturbed” that work involving the project may have been falsified.

'Sound science' promised
“The fact remains that this country needs a permanent geological nuclear waste repository, and the administration will continue to aggressively pursue that goal,” Bodman said, adding that “all related decisions have been, and will continue to be, based on sound science.”

The project has been bogged in controversy, with environmentalists opposed to shipping nuclear waste from across the country to the site.

The nuclear industry supports the project, saying it's needed to remove crowded power plant sites.

The disclosure follows a string of other setbacks:

  • The Energy Department has delayed filing its license application to the NRC and now acknowledges that the planned completion of the facility by 2010 no longer is possible.
  • Congress last year refused to provide all the money sought by the Bush administration for the project.
  • A federal appeals court rejected the radiation protection standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA is now developing new standards.
  • Last month, the official in charge of the Yucca project resigned, citing personal reasons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments