Yucca Mountain problems cited

Yucca Mountain problems cited

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

Two former workers at the Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada say they were fired for disclosing faults in the process used to determine if the site is safe for disposal of nuclear wastes.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal said the workers were either fired or transferred after they raised concerns about the project’s safety.

Quality assurance specialists Robert Clark and Jim Mattimoe said they were pushed out so the problems would not be highlighted.

Records of the U.S. Department of Labor show the pair may have been mistreated because they believe the project is cutting corners to meet deadlines that are imminent.

Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Energy recommended more than 77,000 tons of deadly nuclear waste be buried at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The federal government has since approved plans to build a nuclear waste depository there. The first shipment of nuclear waste may reach the site in 2010.

Mattimoe claims he was fired when he alleged wrongdoing and corruption to Lake Barrett, the man in charge of the DOE’s Office of Radioactive Waste Management, which oversees the Yucca Mountain Project.

Mattimoe said evidence was withheld and statements attributed to persons who had never been interviewed about any concerns with the project.

“The concerns program, which is much like the internal affairs division in a police department, is chartered to perform unbiased, independent investigations into any type of concern that could impact the safety of the project and the public,” Mattimoe said.

“I identified that the concerns program was corrupt and thereby raised questions about the credibility of all investigations for a period of nearly 10 years,” Mattimoe added.

Mattimoe was discharged by Navarro Research and Engineering, a quality assurance contractor hired by the energy department. A Labor Department investigator later determined part of the reason he was fired was that Barrett had urged Navarro to do so.

The inspector described the actions by Barrett as “extraordinarily egregious.” In a report issued Sept. 13, the Labor Department ordered Navarro to reinstate Mattimoe and clear his personnel file and also to reimburse him for any costs he incurred.

The report said Susan Navarro, president of the research firm, was motivated to fire Mattimoe partly because she feared losing future DOE contracts unless she did so.

Navarro said she based her decision on an audit by a prominent law firm that found Mattimoe’s conduct as a program manager for the previous contractor was not consistent with a safety-conscious work environment.

The Labor Department, however, found the audit was nothing more than a “sophisticated recitation of anonymous charges.”

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