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Yucca Mountain Earthquake Analysis on Shaky Ground; Documents Indicate DOE Statement Was Premature

Aug. 21, 2002

Yucca Mountain Earthquake Analysis on Shaky Ground; Documents Indicate DOE Statement Was Premature

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A statement issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) dismissing the effects of an earthquake near Yucca Mountain, Nev., was premature and lacked conclusive supporting evidence, Public Citizen said in letters sent to Senate and House committees asking them to further investigate the issue.

“The DOE put the cart before the horse in making a public statement before completing the necessary studies and analyses,” said Lisa Gue, senior energy analyst with Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Congress should investigate the extent to which this rush-to-judgment tendency characterizes other aspects of DOE?s work on Yucca Mountain.”

The June 14 earthquake, measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale, was recorded about 12 miles away from Yucca Mountain, less than a month before the Senate voted to allow the DOE to proceed with plans to establish a high-level nuclear waste dump there. The day of the earthquake, the DOE issued a statement declaring “no damage to any Yucca Mountain Project facilities.” Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Public Citizen requested copies of all source material used to make this determination.

The agency provided only one document from June 14 ? an e-mail message from a Yucca Mountain Project employee upon which the DOE statement was presumably based ? that describes what workers did. The message reports only a visual inspection of aboveground water tanks and the ground, and a walk-through inspection of about the first 500 feet of the Yucca Mountain tunnel. According to other documents, a more thorough visual inspection ? in which an inspector from Sandia National Labs examined about a third of the Yucca tunnel ? was not conducted until the following day. A required technical evaluation was not completed until July 29.

In letters sent separately today to U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water, Public Citizen wrote, “The public cannot be expected to have confidence in ? and Congress should not accept ? the pronouncements of an agency that appears more committed to dogmatically defending the nuclear industry?s repository interests than honestly ? evaluating the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site.”

Click here to read the letter to Sen. Bingaman; click here to read the letter to Rep. Barton.