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:
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.
TECHNICAL REVIEW COMMITTEE AGENDA
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:
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).