WASHINGTON – A congressional committee will subpoena documents from the Energy Department about possible paperwork fraud on the Yucca Mountain (search) nuclear waste dump in Nevada, a lawmaker said Monday.
The department missed a Monday deadline set by Rep. Jon Porter (search), R-Nev., to hand over documents including personnel records of scientists on the project, organizational charts and research details.
Porter, who chairs a House Government Reform subcommittee, said he met with the chairman of the full committee, Rep. Tom Davis (search), R-Va., and that Davis agreed to subpoena the documents on Tuesday.
"We have asked for these documents since early April. They have been uncooperative," said Porter. "I'm going to use every tool I have available and turn over every stone to make sure we have all the information."
But an Energy Department spokesman said Porter and his staff can come and look at the documents at a department reading room. Department officials have expressed concern that if they give the documents to Porter he will make them public — something he did with the original documents indicating the existence of fraud on the project.
"It's unfortunate that the congressman has chosen to go this route, especially in light of the fact that all the information he has requested has been available to any member of his subcommittee or staff for three weeks," said Energy spokesman Craig Stevens.
Porter said the offer to come and view the documents was "a continual insult to the U.S. Congress."
Porter's panel has been investigating e-mails written from 1998 to 2000 by government scientists, suggesting they made up facts and kept two sets of figures, one for themselves and one to satisfy quality assurance officers.
The Energy Department disclosed the existence of the e-mails in March, and they are the subject of a scientific review and criminal investigations by the inspectors general of the Energy and Interior departments.
But Energy Department officials have reached a preliminary conclusion that the e-mails don't undermine the scientific justification for the dump planned for 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
In a letter to Porter on Monday, Energy Department Acting General Counsel Eric Fygi also expressed concerns that the inquiry by Porter threatened "to metastasize without discrete bounds to embrace all current and future Yucca Mountain licensing proceeding matters."
Like the rest of the Nevada congressional delegation, Porter opposes Yucca Mountain, and he's been able to use his chairmanship of a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the federal work force and agency organization to mount an investigation.
Yucca Mountain was approved by Congress and President Bush in 2002, and is planned as a national repository for 77,000 tons of spent commercial reactor fuel and high-level defense waste, to be buried for 10,000 years in the Nevada desert.
Funding shortfalls and other problems, including the document controversy, have delayed the planned opening date to 2012 at the earliest.
Separately Monday, the Energy Department announced it will use dedicated railroad cars to ship nuclear waste (search) to the dump once it opens, rather than sharing trains with other cargo.