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Yucca Science

INTRO: Congressman Jon Porter was to hold a second hearing today into allegedly falsified federal scientific data regarding Yucca Mountain. But the Department of the Interior has refused to make the scientists testify so the hearing's been called off. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on the content of e-mails those scientists wrote.

VIDEO: Water is the vehicle by which radiation wil eventually escape Yucca Mountain."

PLASKON: This video by the State of Nevada Department for Nuclear Projects explains how water is central to the Department of Energy's proposal to store of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. How much water is there, how deep it is and how much flows through the ground, would water reach the waste within 10-thousand years. These questions are hard to answer to say the least.

LOUX: I have animation.

PLASKON: Robert Loux, Director of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects says he doesn't have any real video of water in the multi-million dollar tunnel the DOE has dug into Yucca Mountain. Just this video.

VIDEO: Some of the water that doesn't evaporate eventually travels down through cracks in the rocks.

PLASKON: Estimate for how much water trickles through the mountain vary. The state agency estimates that there's 500 times more water traveling through the mountain than some USGS studies indicate. The studies have cost billions of dollars to date and USGS employees have been writing back and forth about them. Loux has read the mails.

LOUX: There are clearly e-mails in here that we can't get there unless we can show that the tunnel will be very, very dry, how can you get there, we have dripping water, standing water, water, water everywhere.

PLASKON: That's jus one of an estimated 6 million e-mails the DOE is making public under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements to get a license to store the waste in the ground. In another e-mail employees talked about the results of a heater test - meant to test the theory that nuclear waste's massive heat could actually repel water.

LOUX: And in this particular instance they realized they had 2-3 inches of water on the floor and the whole experiment ended up being a bust.

PLASKON: Other e-mails from USGS employees indicate that data was falsified. Loux says employees knew the implications.

LOUX: Well there are a couple of references in here that if the state of Nevada ever gets a hold of these e-mails, we will be in big trouble.

PLASKON: USGS Spokesperson AB Wade, says employees know e-mails are public.

WADE: Every federal employee should know that . . . ha ha."

PLASKON: The information in the e-mails has triggered investigations by the FBI, Department of Justice and Inspector Generals at the DOE and Department of the Interior.

WADE: Any instance that would taint that reputation we certainly desire to have the truth and if there are other instances that come out then so be it.

PLASKON: The DOE's internal investigation was nearing completion last week according to the agency's Alan Benson.

BENSON: In the very near future and that is when I would like to talk to you when we have some facts to provide.

PLASKON: Benson didn't return phone calls a week later regarding the status of that internal investigation. But he did say earlier that the Yucca Mountain project employs 15-hundred people and it's a fraction of bad employees that are making headlines. According to the DOE's contract renewals with the USGS, the DOE has reduced the number of USGS employees from 124 in 1997 to just 49 in 2002. The State office for nuclear projects estimates that the DOE may have cut spending by half as well. The USGS is 120 year-old non-political federal agency and has more than 9-thousand employees studying earth science, hydrology and remote sensing all over the world including Indonesia and Afghanistan. Congressman Jon Porter who was to hold today's hearing featuring three USGS employees says it's imperative to get to the bottom of this.

PORTER: This is far more global than just Nevada we are talking about federal employees who falsified documents. DOE has facilities all over the country they are responsible for safety of nuclear sites power grids all over this country. I think that this just the beginning.

PLASKON: He primarily blames the DOE for putting pressure on USGS employees. According to the Washington Post, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and John Ensign are using this opportunity to write a bill amending the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The amendment would allow the DOE to take responsibility for nuclear waste. That would eliminate the need for a waste repository. The two senators are trying to drum up support for the measure, but if last weeks hearing is any indication it doesn't look good. Only the Nevada delegation showed up.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR