Technical Review Committee

The socioeconomic studies conducted for the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office have as peer review the State of Nevada Technical Review Committee. Table 6 gives the members of the Committee, their affiliations and their not insignificant reimbursement (more than $1 million). Technical review boards on large science projects like Yucca Mountain project are to be encouraged, but it is unclear whether Nevada's Technical Review Committee acted as peer review or as rubber stamps for poor science. The million dollar question is thus whether Technical Review Committee members were chosen to do rigorous oversight, or whether their purpose was to act as cheerleaders for the equity theories of Roger Kasperson and the risk perception theories of Paul Slovic.

The hourly rates of the Committee members may seem high to people outside the world of consulting, but when non-billed hours, office maintenance, etc. are included, those figures are not out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary is the amount of peer review work that was done and who was asked to participate in that work:

  1. No one connected to Nevada had any hand at all in the peer review. All members of the Technical Review Committee are from out-of-state.
  2. The Technical Review Committee appears to have been hand picked to mirror the ideological bias of NWPO.
  3. The purpose of the review was supposedly to ensure sound science. Yet, the TRC's criticism of the socioeconomic research was kept secret.

None of the names on the Review Committee have the slightest affiliation with the state of Nevada. If the Universities of Nevada at Reno and at Las Vegas were cow-town colleges with no expertise in local demographic studies this might be acceptable, but both campuses have a deserved national reputation for being up-and-coming (see U.S. News and World Report, college review editions 1991 through 1993).

The exclusion of Nevada residents from academic peer review is in itself mysterious. After all, the socioeconomic studies were meant to explore the social and economic impact of the Yucca Mountain repository on Nevadans, not on people in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan and other distant states from whence the committee members came. NWPO is a Nevada agency entrusted to carry out the best interests of Nevadans, while the federal government and DOE already exist to worry about out-of-state interests.


If the academicians on the committee weren't responsible to people in Nevada, then who did they represent? Unfortunately, it appears they mostly represented the cloistered group of scholars encompassing the Mountain West socioeconomic team, serving as rubber-stamps for that groups radical socioeconomic theories. Clues comes from the geographic distribution of some of the participants. Michael Bronzini of Pennsylvania State and Dohrenwend of Columbia University are close to Three Mile Island and indeed Dohrenwend was involved with Roger Kasperson, Paul Slovic and James Chalmers in the Kemeny Commission studies of the Three Mile Island accident in the early eighties. Other Committee members were colleagues of Roger Kasperson or Paul Slovic in the past.

This is not meant to call into question the credentials of the TRC members, but to instead point out that they were formed with an internal bias. Since no Committee members are resident Nevadans, they lacked an internal rational perspective of the socioeconomic situation in Nevada. Being paid large sums for little work, they had little desire to rock the boat if the studies veered away from reality. Since Nuclear Risk Perception is a tiny and specialized field, the group was also subject to academic incest, with no new ideas other than those of the main researchers allowed to enter. The following backgrounds of TRC members thus help to put their biases in an open light.

GILBERT F. WHITE: The Technical Review Committee Chairman, White is now at of the University of Colorado, but was for a time the president of Resources for the Future, whence Allen V. Kneese derives. Mountain West also took advantage of other members of Resources for the Future, further interlocking the technical review with those doing the research More importantly, Roger Kasperson got his PhD at the University of Chicago where Gilbert White was then a professor of geography. Kasperson began quoting G.F. White in the sixties and worked with him later. Consequently, the head of the Technical Review Committee was in effect personally chosen by Roger Kasperson.

ALLEN KNEESE: A fellow at Resources for the Future, Kneese was one of the first to write a think tank paper condemning nuclear power in a 1972 article titled "The Faustian Bargain" [Resources For the Future, 1972]. This article, later favorably cited by the anti-nuclear zealot Helen Caldicott, was one of the first works to claim the infeasibility of nuclear waste storage. Kneese worried about the creation of what Alvin Weinberg had claimed would be a technological priesthood needed to guard nuclear waste. The Resources for the Future connection to Gilbert White and other opposition to nuclear energy suggest Kneese was not appointed to the Technical Review Committee as unbiased peer review. Indeed, Kneese had provided a paper for Roger Kasperson's 1983 book, Equity Issues in Waste Management, that played fast and furious with the economics and cost-benefit analysis of nuclear waste disposal.

Writing a chapter titled "Economic Issues in the Legacy Problem", Kneese evaluated nuclear energy technology on four ethical criteria: utilitarian, libertarian or Pareto superior, elitist and Rawlsian. Kasperson later requoted the Kneese chapter in a paper for NWPO giving his interpretation:

The exemplary (Kneese) analyses, using the four criteria, suggest that:

  1. the utilitarian analysis would reject nuclear power because the costs clearly exceeded the benefits;
  2. the libertarian or Pareto superior analysis would argue against producing nuclear energy because there is no available mechanism for making compensation which is clearly consistent with the Pareto ethical regime;
  3. since the production of nuclear energy positively benefits the current generation, the elitist criterion would favor nuclear waste production;
  4. the Rawlsian criterion leads to any unconstrained maximization of the second generation's expected utility and so the current generation should not produce nuclear power.
[Kasperson, Roger; Abdollahzadeh, Sassan; "Distributional Equity Problems at the Proposed Yucca Mountain Facility", NWPO-SE-009-88, 1988, p22]

Only elitists apparently would approve of nuclear power, although we've seen Kasperson had previously dismissed elitism in favor of Marxist and egalitarian philosophies in his formative monograph "Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning" [Kasperson, Breitbart; Association of American Geographers, 1974]

EDITH PAGE: A long time Project Director from the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), U.S. Congress. Page evidently had no problem pulling in an extra $80,000 over five years doing peer review even while working in Washington for the OTA. This may well have been a conflict of interest if she was a federally salaried employee working against a government sponsored technology that her agency might be called on to offer oversight. At $40 per hour this represents 2000 hours or approximately one year of full time work. One wonders if Page's bosses at OTA encouraged this moonlighting. Since NWPO's avowed goal was to derail Yucca Mountain and nuclear energy in general, we potentially have a federal worker working against the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

KAI ERIKSON: In an opinion printed in the Nevada Nuclear Waste News printed by NWPO [Removing the Solution, . . . Not the Problem Vol 5, No. 1, Jan 1994], Erikson states:

"To examine the potential social and economic consequences of the repository, the State of Nevada supplemented other federally supported studies by engaging an experienced group of research specialists. . . On the basis of that experience, our committee has become convinced that the federal government has not adequately considered the human element in its thinking about nuclear waste."

The fact that a social scientist working for the State of Nevada (which spent $15 million on socioeconomic studies and $112,000 on Erikson) finds the human element inadequately considered is somewhat surprising.

"How can we assume that the environmental envelope in which we live will not be rearranged altogether by advanced technologies? How can we be sure that people will not be attracted to that conveniently packaged waste because they see it as a valuable resource? Perhaps it will be perceived as a weapon buried in enemy territory, needing only to be activated, or as a place of such power that it excites religious awe. We do not know and cannot know the answers to these questions."

Erikson is right. Indeed, we may not know any sociological fact, for the entire global population might well wake up tomorrow believing that Ronald McDonald is God and golden arches have religious significance. A lack of quantifiable criteria for judging the social perception studies conducted by Nevada is one reason these studies are viewed with suspicion. No technology could be constructed under Erikson's restraints for sociological predictability.

MICHAEL S. BRONZINI Dept. of Civil Engineering Pennsylvania State University. Why did Nevada's socioeconomic Technical Review Committee need a $75/hour Civil Engineer from Pennsylvania when it could find excellent ones in the state skilled in radiation issues?

BRUCE DOHRENWEND: Also present at the Three Mile Island studies, Dohrenwend was already part of the academic bubble that included Mountain West, Decision Research and Clark University.

E. WILLIAM COLGLAZIER: From the University of Tennessee, near Oak Ridge National Laboratories. A relatively objective voice, at a February 1, 1989 meeting on the Mountain West Section 175 Report, Colglazier suggested 'a need for an introductory section in the next draft report indicating what is known from the research and what remains unknown. A statement of humility regarding the inability to make projections, given the state of uncertainties, is needed in this introduction.'



ROY RAPPAPORT: [As with Colglazier, these three may be relatively objective given the limited amount of time available to research their positions. Nevertheless, as with all the Technical Review Committee, they are not Nevadans. This is more than a small concern, especially since perceived risks came to play such a large part in the socioeconomic analysis provided by the state in the form of so-called 'special effects.' Nevada culture is perceptibly independent, literally a culture of gamblers, so it is difficult to understand how peer reviewers could judge the value of perceived risks among such a population without incorporating distinctly non-Nevada perspectives.]

The Technical Review Committee wasn't formed to do the grunt work of basic research, they weren't called on to write voluminous papers, nor were they required to take residency in the state. Some of the Committee members walked away $200,000 richer for doing what might be called an academic sleep walk. The question is whether their main purpose was to do rigorous peer review, or to validate the often radical positions of Mountain West and its contractors.

Sociological theories are accepted not by solid analytical or empirical proof, but through consensus building among professional peers. Unfortunately, one way to build such consensus is by stacking a peer review committee in a theory's favor and awarding lucrative contracts to the reviewers. Whether this is what happened in Nevada will obviously be a subject of debate, though there is a conspicuous lack of record of constructive criticism from the Technical Review Committee that would put this suspicion to rest.

The limited paper trail we do have stops after the February 1, 1989 Technical Review Committee meeting. According to informed sources, observers were not allowed into subsequent meetings, nor were notes taken, because it became obvious there were problems with providing quantifiably results based on the 'special effects' being developed by Mountain West and because the debate had become somewhat rancorous. Instead of allowing these debates to rage in public, the peer review was put behind closed doors.

Yet, the record from the 1989 meeting suggests even the Technical Review Committee couldn't accept all the liberties taken by the Mountain West in their socioeconomic studies. In preparation for what is termed the Section 175 Report, a large preliminary impact statement required by law to be presented in 1989, the Technical Review Committee met to do peer review over the work of the Mountain West Contingent. An abreviated set of minutes from this meeting shows that there was substantial dissension in the ranks (see following pages).


Gilbert White (Chair, TRC) introduced the comment period and requested that each member of the TRC indicate the key questions to be resolved.
B. Dohrenwend focused on the perception of risk studies and indicated that their strength lies in providing a valuable baseline; their weakness is "everything else". Questions that are likely to be raised by DOE and Congress include the following. Why are the closest residents so favorable to a repository if it is so risky? Why are nuclear images mentioned so infrequently by tourists to Las Vegas, especially given the Nevada Test Site? With responses opposite from those one would intuitively expect, (e.g., the inverse relationship between distance and opposition to a repository), are the results credible? Dohrenwend suggested that the many qualifying statements about the research currently in the report should be taken seriously by the authors, such as "people may not really know how the repository will affect their behavior."
K.Erikson stated that the report is very hard to read and is fragmented. He suggested that the social amplification portion of the stigma research is the strongest part, but that a different term should be used. "Amplification" implies that there is a "true" value of risk that has been overexagerated by ordinary people, which is not correct.
R. Rappaport indicated that he agreed that the report is difficult to read and suggested reorganization. The report should indicate how the authors want their research to be used. He also suggested that DOE's effort and the State's research contribute to or create impacts, which can be managed through openness. The critique of DOE should be enlarged to address the organizational ability or inability of DOE to validly conduct site characterization. The State should analyze the organizational culture of DOE. Additionally, Rappaport suggested that the State capitalize on the uncertainty associated with the first-of-a-kind repository and should take a conservative approach: longterm uncertainty should not be traded for short term benefits.
E. Page suggested that the tone of the report is a fundamental problem. The tone is one of Nevada as victim and the tone is supported by an amalgamation of bits of information rather than a coherent theme. She noted that the report is very weak on transportation analysis, which is Nevdans' primary concern.
R. Hanson indicated that the report fails to provide an incisive analysis of the data, although it does provide a summary of work to date. It cannot serve as a companion to the 175 Report. The report's major deficiency is its tone and the lack of a connection between risk perception theory and behavior. Hanson suggested that there is nothing in these studies on which decisions may be made. The research is suggestive, but projections based upon these suggestions are unacceptable. He indicated that the notion of a social welfare function is not addressed. He also noted that a 10 percent long term reduction in tourism, used as the scenario for projections, is simply not credible. The report should contain a discussion of mitigation and compensation.
R. Moore noted that DOE bashing, which is prevalent throughout the report, should be deleted. Related to perceptions of risk, Moore does not believe that dampening of future growth is likely. Nevertheless, a short term catastrophe that would close tourism for a brief period would be devastating in the short run. He also indicated that transportation must be emphasized, as well as emergency response needs.
C. Colglazier suggested that a separate report may need to be written to address standard impacts without consideration of perceptions of risk effects. He suggested that it is plausible that negative images of Las Vegas or Nevada may not develop as a result of the repository, that such images may be temporary if they do occur, and that the perceptions of risk responses may be altered depending on how DOE responds to them. In order to be credible, all sides of perceptions of risk and stigma arguments need to be presented.
G. White concluded that the credibility of the report would be enhanced by clear statements about what is known as a result of the research and what remains unknown. The report also needs a clear statement of the assumptions underlying the research. He noted that alternatives to a repository, such as recycling, are not mentioned in the report, nor is the fact that a repository has no precedence highlighted.
J. Chalmers (Mountain West) stated that the research, which is intended for public consumption, needs to be described in clear, fair terms and that there needs to be a delineation between methods of research and the application of results. (Lunch Break)
P. Slovic suggested that the potential behavioral responses of unknown probability that may result from a repository, even though uncertainties exist about the nature of these responses, must be taken into consideration in the decisionmaking process.
H. Kunreuther indicated that the research has raised issues that are not considered in traditional benefit-cost analysis. He suggested that the repository is unique and, therefore, the issues and behavioral responses resulting from the repository are unique. Benefit-cost analysis, if employed in a traditional manner, would not capture the uniqueness of the repository or the behavioral responses to it.
B. Dohrenwend suggested that many of the researcher talked about an "impressive convergence" of the multiple studies of risk perceptions and intended behavior change. What is not clear in the report is exactly what is converging?
J. Chalmers suggested that the convergence of results from multiple studies indicates that something is happening; convergence of findings indicates that one cannot reject the null hypothesis that there is not a perception of risk phenomenon associated with the repository, which may adversely affect behavior.
R. Kasperson noted that implicit in the perceptions of risk and stigma studies is the fact that traditional ways of doing social impact analysis are no longer sufficient because the repository is unique. Impact analysis must be innovative in order to include new, emerging issues (e.g., perceptions of risk).
C. Colglazier suggested a need for an introductory section in the next draft report indicating what is known from the research and what remains unknown. A statement of humility regarding the inability to make projections, given the extent of uncertainties, is needed in this introduction.
R. Rapaport asked the rhetorical question, how does one proceed prudently in the absence of knowledge?
A. Kneese noted that the perceptions of risk and stigma paradigm grinds throughout the entire analysis of all communities and impacts, including those communities where studies indicate there would be little or no effect from perceptions of risk. He suggested that standard impacts should be addressed first for the area, then a hypothetical perception of risk scenario should be presented and the risk effects traced.
E. Page noted that the notion of the social amplification of risk almost overwhelms those things that can be said with some certainty, such as assessment of standard impacts.
G. White noted the difficulty of presenting the research data in ways that will be helpful to locals.
R. Moore indicated that the State must be able to show potential or actual impacts in order to continue research funding. He noted that the repository program is continuing, even though it stalls periodically. Therefore, there is a need to identify standard impacts that need to be mitigated.
D. Bechtel (Clark County) indicated that he agrees that standard impacts need to be addressed now and need to be separated from special effects stemming from perceptions of risk and stigma. If these components are separated, the assessment of standard impacts may be salvageable. As the report is currently, it is of no value.
W. Freudenburg suggested that standard impacts are likely to be twice those currently estimated.
R. Hanson agreed that standard impacts are likely to be larger than projected currently. He noted that a comprehensive monitoring program is essential. He also suggested that there is not enough detail in tabular format for readers to discern results.
J. Chalmers suggested that the only conclusion to be drawn from the perceptions of risks studies is that it would be unwise to ignore risk-induced behavioral effects. It may be advisable, though, to separate the assessment of standard impacts from the assessment of special effects.
R. Moore suggested that the State challenge the Section 175 Report conclusions that sufficient resources exist and sufficient authority exists to mitigate impacts.
S. Bradhurst stated that the needs of Nye County should be the basis of future work. Therefore, the assessment of standard impacts needs to be presented in such a way as to identify where additional data and research are needed. The assessment of special effects needs to be separated from the assessment of standard impacts; otherwise, the studies are not usable for impact mitigation. The TRC should assess the adequacy of standard impact analysis. Are there going to be impacts during site characterization?
D. Bechtel indicated that he had hoped the report would provide definitive results regarding standard impacts and that he was disappointed with the report. He stated that he was almost ready to simply take the information already collected and continue with analysis of the County's needs. He suggested that he will have difficulty with the State's report even if special and standard impacts are separated.
Considering the fact that the Technical Review Committee was already heavily weighted in favor of accepting the Mountain West contingent's theories and many members had previous professional ties to Roger Kasperson, these minutes can only be viewed as a strong vote of no confidence in the direction of the State's socioeconomic studies. However, even after this blunt rebuke there was very little change in the "DOE bashing", the over-emphasis on dubious risk perception theories and general lack of rigor in NWPO's studies. What did change was that the Technical Review Committee's minutes were no longer generally available for review, possibly because the State was afraid the secret that not everyone viewed their studies as perfect would be discovered.