Yucca Mountain Project:

Information on Estimated Costs to Respond to Employee E-Mails That Raised Questions about Quality Assurance

GAO-07-297R: Published: Jan 19, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2007.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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In March 2005, the Department of Energy (DOE) reported the discovery of a series of e-mail messages written in the late 1990s by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees working under a contract with DOE on the Yucca Mountain Project. These e-mails alerted DOE that USGS workers may have falsified records for scientific work on the project and may have been disdainful of the project's quality assurance program and its requirements. In March 2006, we reported that DOE was engaged in a detailed review of these and other project e-mails and was reworking technical documents to ensure the credibility of the USGS's scientific analyses, particularly its conclusions on water infiltration. At Congress' request, we undertook follow-on work to determine the estimated costs incurred in DOE's response, which also included additional management and quality assurance training for project personnel. We briefed Congressional staff on October 23, 2006, on the results of this work. As Congress requested, we also briefed Congressional staff on the estimated cost of completing the Yucca Mountain Project, based on DOE's new schedule for receiving a license and opening the nuclear waste repository by 2017.

With respect to the review of project e-mail and other relevant documents to determine the extent and nature of problems similar to those suggested by the USGS e-mails, the agencies estimated that their efforts cost nearly $4.2 million. The scientific rework related to the USGS water infiltration analysis cost an estimated $16 million, while additional management and quality assurance training for project personnel cost about $340,000. All three estimates were for expenditures in fiscal years 2005 and 2006. In fiscal year 2007, DOE plans to spend another $5.1 million on scientific rework. DOE's preliminary cost estimate to complete and open the repository to begin receiving wastes by 2017 is about $23 billion (expressed in fiscal year 2006 dollars), $12.1 billion of which was spent from fiscal year 1983 through fiscal year 2005. DOE expects to revise its cost estimate for completing the project in 2007.

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