Charges fly over Yucca Mountain e-mails

Nevada governor says references to falsified data indicate "nothing short of criminal behavior."

Nevada lawmakers said Tuesday that federal employees might have falsified scientific evidence relating to the development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site to further political goals.

"The recent disclosure by Secretary of Energy [Samuel] Bodman that scientists working on the Yucca Mountain project may have falsified data is nothing short of criminal behavior," said Nevada's Republican governor, Kenny C. Guinn. "The fact that data may have been intentionally fabricated in service of shoring up predetermined and politically driven conclusions calls into question the very legitimacy of this entire program."

The contentious statements came during a House Government Reform subcommittee hearing to examine whether alleged falsified government research documents compromised the scientific justification for storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev. In 2002, President Bush signed legislation authorizing a single storage facility for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain-consolidating more than 100 sites nationwide.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that he believes the controversial product will now be delayed indefinitely.

"It should be obvious to everyone now that Yucca Mountain isn't going anywhere," Reid said. "It is abundantly clear that there is no such thing as sound science at Yucca Mountain."

Jon Porter, R-Nev., chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, called the hearing after a March revelation that federal employees might have falsified scientific information on the impact of the nuclear waste site.

On March 16, Energy Secretary Bodman said department employees had "learned that certain employees of the U.S. Geological Survey at the Department of the Interior working on the Yucca Mountain project may have falsified documentation of their work."

The controversy is focused around e-mails sent from federal employees between 1998 and 2000. An internal Energy Department memo says, "these e-mails describe deliberate failures to follow quality assurance procedures and irreproducible results related to the infiltration of water into the repository … Depending on the current status of the work … these e-mails may create a substantial vulnerability."

One of the Geological Survey employee e-mails, dated March 20, 2000, discussed the installation of software being used in the Yucca evaluation.

"I've made up the dates and names," the USGS employee wrote. "This is as good as it's going to get. If they need more proof, I will be happy to make up more stuff."

USGS Director Charles G. Groat said his agency is taking the allegations seriously.

"We have a 125-year reputation for sound, unbiased science," Groat said. "Anything that casts aspersions on that reputation disturbs us greatly. We, as do you, look forward to the completion of the ongoing investigations to fully determine the impacts and appropriate responses."