UNLV and UNR
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Nevada, Reno, both up-and-coming state universities, played the part of sacrificial pawns in NWPO's strategy to keep nuclear waste out of the state at any cost. Both universities were purposely kept out of the decision making loop regarding the design of technical studies and especially socioeconomic impact studies. This allowed NWPO to fish through the entire United States for sympathetic but unaccountable academics who supported their nuclear doomsday theories. The lack of substantial contracts awarded to the Nevada university system amounts to an admission by the state that it cannot trust it's own academicians. It wasn't a lack of technical expertise, as NWPO claims, that led to this situation, but the fact that this was the only way the state could influence studies in NWPO's favor.
NEGLECTED NEVADA SOCIOECONOMIC ANALYSIS
The near monopoly given Mountain West Research for socioeconomic studies preempted involvement in the characterization of Yucca Mountain. For example, the Hotel Management school at UNLV is world recognized and well capable of economic impact analysis. Students from around the globe attend the school because they know Las Vegas' fine convention and hotel industry is intimately linked with the abilities of the management school at the university.
Yet amazingly, an analysis of the impact of Yucca Mountain on the Las Vegas convention industry was not done in Nevada, but in Pennsylvania by the Warton School, a state not particularly known for tourism, gaming, conventioneering or entertainment. This led to bizarre contracts of the following sort:
NWPO-SE-021-89 The Convention Planning Process: Potential Impact of a High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada. Howard Kunreuther, Doug Easterling and Paul Kleindorfer, Center for Risk and Decision Processes, The Warton School, University of Pennsylvania (September 1988)
Why would a study on convention planning ever considered for anyone outside the state of Nevada, when Las Vegas is one of the prime convention destinations in the country (COMDEX, ABA, NAB, Consumer Electronics, etc.) and has a fine Hotel Management school eager to do such analysis? After all, Nevadans don't just have an academic interest in convention planning, they live, eat and die based on the results of the studies they do in this area. They also have intimate experience with the effects of nuclear testing on tourism. One suspects the reason the study was done in Pennsylvania is because Howard Kunreuther, Doug Easterling and Paul Kleindorfer were friends of Roger Kasperson and Paul Slovic from the 1979 studies of Three Mile Island and could be expected to reinforce the economic disaster theories being promoted by the State of Nevada. In Pennsylvania, Three Mile Island had been an economic non-event. In Nevada, the Test Site didn't seem to hinder construction of new extravagent hotel complexes. Yet, in the report from Warton, the ominous nuclear images once again raised their frightened head
. . . .we can expect that between 3% and 28% of planners who would normally select Las Vegas for their meeting will choose another city if and when the repository begins operating at Yucca Mountain. [NWPO-SE-021-89, abstract]
The Warton report had little relationship to the experience of most of the Las Vegas hotels which experienced negligible impact from fears of the Nevada Test Site affecting convention attendence. While it is true that extensive national media coverage of Yucca Mountain would no doubt have some impact on tourist attendence, the most likely source of such reports would be the state of Nevada's NWPO staff, not the casino industry. NWPO did most of its anti-Yucca Mountain propagandizing through the socioeconomic study groups it imported from out of state and we've covered most of these issues in previous chapters. Just as devastating however was what NWPO did to engineering studies within the state, especially at UNLV, UNR and at the Desert Research Institute.
PREJUDICING THE ENGINEERING COMMUNITY
While most of NWPO's technical studies were legitimate, there were a number of noteworthy exceptions. One of the most obvious subterfuges was NWPO's attempt to stuff the transportation studies with the ubiquitous Marvin Resnikoff, who was brought in to critique RADTRANS, the transportation software package. Fortunately, this attempt to replace transportation specialists with an environmental activist intent on sabotaging the repository siting process was thwarted by the professionalism of the engineers who filled other positions in the study. UNLV now has a top notch Transportation section studying routing problems associated with nuclear waste shipment. Another abuse of scientific process was that millions of dollars in hydrology studies were transferred out -of-state by NWPO to TRAC and friends of Jerry Szymanski, as discussed earlier.
More disturbing were NWPO's attempts to prejudice engineering studies against Yucca Mountain. An article in the May/June 1988 edition of the Nevada Monitor published by the Nevada Nuclear Waste Study Committee shows how NWPO was inclined to distort the findings of in-state technical experts,
UNIVERSITY SCIENTIST SAYS STATE MAY ONLY WANT BIASED STUDIES
A memorandum from a Desert Research Institute (DRI) scientist has suggested that the state's Nuclear Waste Project Office (NWPO) director, Bob Loux, may only support funding research that will support the state's opposition to the proposed high level repository at Yucca Mountain.
The memorandum was written by Dr. John Fordham, who heads DRI research on Yucca Mountain now being conducted for the state. It was included in a letter sent by Dr. James Taranik, who heads the University Research Council, to University of Nevada Chancellor Mark Dawson and the presidents of both UNR and UNLV. The Research Council was created to oversee various research projects related to the repository throughout the entire university system, which includes DRI.
Fordham's memorandum followed a meeting of the council and representatives of the NWPO. It said in part that "it seems there is an agenda on the part of the state office (NWPO) which isn't being put on the table . . . . that he (Loux) believes the University should buy into the present party line of being total adversary of the proposed high level waste site." The memo also indicated that Fordham believes Loux was not abiding by a 1984 contract which specifically provided for DRI's repository program independence to provide unbiased scientific judgement and analysis in its research.
The general comments from Dr. Fordham's memorandum are printed below:
"In general, it seems that there is an agenda on the part of the State Office which isn't being put on the table. My interpretation of Bob's (Loux) comments is that he believes the University should buy into the present party line of being a total adversary of the proposed high-level waste site. His comments related to conflict of interest and future testimony by University personnel indicate that they presuppose our findings will be counter to those of DOE and its contractors. This falls directly in line with an earlier comment by an attorney from the NWPO that their purpose was to "cast doubt, not determine the truth."
"The entire concept of prejudging the results of our research findings runs counter to the concepts upon which we attempt to operate. In our original contract with the State Office (1984), we went to great pains to be explicit about our independence in providing unbiased scientific judgement and analysis. Anything which indicates that we are simply to be a mouthpiece for the current adversarial party line flies in the face of that original agreement." [Nevada Monitor, May/ June 1988]
If anything, Dr. Fordham's statement understates the seriousness of Bob Loux's and NWPO's attempts to coerce adversarial science from the University system. If a scientist at the University were caught trying to dictate the outcome of a colleagues science, he would be kicked out of the University in disgrace and be lucky not to be reprimanded by the scientific community. When Bob Loux tried to coerce scientific results, he was instead commended by the state's politicians as a defender of truth.
The scientific community guards its independence from political bias with a justified fierceness. Once scientific positions can be bought or coerced by budding Napoleans running state agencies as their personal fiefdoms, science ceases to exist and is replaced by demogoguery. It is to the credit of the Nevada University system that they have valiantly avoided being coopted by Bob Loux's peculiar brand of science in which results are preordained. The price they paid was to be cut off from approximately $20 million in funding grants.
Dr. Fordham was by no means a lone dissident, there was a chorus of dissent which was soon stifled by state politicians and key university administrators who also operate on the political plane. Concerns voiced by Dr. William Culbreth from the UNLV Civil Engineering Department pointed to a number of questions regarding NWPO, Loux and the state's conduct in regard to Yucca Mountain. In a letter to William Wells, Dean of the engineering department, dated December 16, 1987, Dr. Culbreth wrote:
. . . . . The fundamental problem is the total lack of credentials of the director of the NWPO, Mr. Robert Loux. The nuclear waste repository is a very complex program which the Department of Energy (DOE) has been carrying out for some time and which will continue in the site selection and construction phases into the 21st century. If the program proceeds as planned, waste will not even be accepted until at least 2003 or thereabouts. There are a vast number of issues of vital concern to the State of Nevada. In order to grapple with any one of these issues, a wide variety of expert personnel would be required. Normally, a position of this type would be filled by creating a statement of qualifications for the position (i.e. a description of the qualification that an individual must possess in order to be considered a suitable candidate). Then a national search would be conducted on the basis of this statement of qualifications so as to ensure that the position is filled by the most highly qualified person possible. Yet, supervising this entire oversight process for the state is a man of no apparent qualifications. Mr. Loux has a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Nevada - Reno (UNR). He has NO record of management of large complex projects, management of projects with engineering and scientific components, professional employment in the nuclear industry or any other relevant industry, high level managerial experience in federal government, or any other obvious qualification commensurate with the complex nature and great responsibilities of this position. In fact, the exact nature of Mr. Loux's qualifications and how he came to possess this position is somewhat of a mystery.
Its clear from this statement that dissatisfaction with Mr. Loux ran deep within the academic community as early as 1987. Dr. Culbreth goes on to describe an even more important problem, the objectivity of the science conducted by the state and how NWPO systematically went about undermining the independence of its independent investigators:
. . . . Mountain West acts as general contractor (for socioeconomic studies), and subcontracts the bulk of the work mainly to professors at various universities around the U.S. Most of these professors contract with Mountain West privately as opposed to contracting through their respective universities. This has important implications for the control of the research products. These implications will be discussed below.
The overall quality of the work is quite poor. The research reports are not turned in on time and have little substance. The research reports are written in jargon and are practically unreadable by a thinking human being. It would be interesting, as a measure of overall quality, to determine the number of journal publications that have resulted from the socioeconomic studies sponsored by NWPO. The various researchers have little knowledge of the state. They have made a variety of blatantly erroneous statements in the various reports. For example, one researcher made the statement that there are no large religious groups within the state that exert political influence. Apparently this researcher had never heard of the Mormon Church or of the Roman Catholic Church. Examples of this sort are legion. The review of these works is haphazard and ill-organized as anyone who has spent time at the annual review sessions can attest. The overall direction of the research is also a matter of concern, i.e. who sets the overall direction of research, how are the research needs chosen, and the responsiveness of the research direction to the needs of local governments.
Two important issues are that of the ownership of the data that has been collected and access to the reports that have been generated. Mountain West has, at least by their own assertion, collected a large amount of socioeconomic data. Clark County personnel have asked for this data but were told by Mountain West that it was not in accessible form. The implication being that Mountain West owns this information and that more money would be required to put this information into a viable form. This is information developed with what is ultimately federal money and therefore is in the public not private domain. These same personnel have also requested a complete set of socioeconomic studies which they have never received. Perhaps these are not available in any organized form. In spite of all these problems, Mountain West will receive a contract for $1.5 million for the 1988-89 period. This is the spending limit imposed by congress on socioeconomic studies. Congress imposed limits on these studies and overall spending limits in order to prevent further boondoggle, and not out of spite or to prevent the state from carrying out competent programs as has been asserted by various politicians.
The geological assessments are handled primarily by UNR and DRI and also by Mifflin and Associates, a private consulting firm located in Las Vegas. The exact level of funding by Mifflin and Associates is difficult to ascertain, but it certainly amounts to several million dollars per year. It would be interesting to determine exactly how this firm obtained this contract and the exact value thereof. Mifflin and Associates does a lot of subcontracting to professionals and to university professors at DRI and UNR and throughout the U.S. again as private consultants. The same concerns about research quality and research direction expressed about the socioeconomic studies would also apply to the geologic studies.
One of the reasons for the use of private consultants is that this gives the NWPO more control over the research results. The NWPO views its relationship with the DOE as adversarial. Any entity that works or wishes to work for NWPO must accept the NWPO party line. Any entity that does work for the DOE is the enemy. This, and not competence, seems to be the selected criterium. A memo to Dr. James Taranik, President of the DRI, that was leaked to the press discussed this problem in some detail. In essence, this memo stated that NWPO is not interested in determining truth but in casting doubt upon the work of DOE, and that NWPO wants only work that accomplishes this goal. In other words, the NWPO wants biased research. This is a very serious allegation which casts doubt upon the NWPO and also upon any organization, particularly academic organizations, which have involvement with the NWPO.
These allegations are borne out by the standard NWPO contract which prohibits publication of research results without prior consent of the NWPO. Neither the method for obtaining this consent nor the basis upon which this consent is granted is specified in the contract. No university would accept such a prohibition, which is why the NWPO prefers to use private contractors. The private contractors then subcontract with university personnel on a private basis, and this prohibition is passed on in the subcontract. The NWPO also wants to prohibit any organization within the University of Nevada system which does work for the NWPO from any research involvement with DOE. This would mean, for example, that if a professor within a particular college had a contract with the NWPO, all of the other professors within that college would be prohibited from doing any contractwork for DOE. Again, no university anywhere would or could accept such a prohibition. Any university that accepted such stipulations would lose its reputation for academic integrity. The NWPO is currently holding hostage research funding to the UNLV Department of Geosciences and also $1.25 million to the College of Engineering for transportation studies. Apparently the NWPO is also attempting to force the DRI and UNR to agree to the same stipulations by withholding research funding from these organizations. These organizations have so far declined to do so.
There are a variety of other issues that could be examined. Among these are the lack of oversight by the governor and by the legislative branch, the fear of making facts and disagreements public due to the power of the governor, the Treichel debacle and the employment by the NWPO of long time antinuclear activists who lack credibility, the reasons why Clark County has sought its own funding from the DOE, and the NWPO budget and the general potential for all sorts of misuse of funds.
Obviously, as far back as 1987 NWPO was using strong-arm tactics to muscle the state's Yucca Mountain studies into a preordained antinuclear outcome. The question Dr. Culbreth's letter raises now is whether any of the research conducted by NWPO over the last ten years is free from taint. It seems that the Nevada University system may have avoided having its integrity poisoned by reason of its early protests, but the UNLV and UNR budgets account for at most 25% of the funds that passed through NWPO's hands. Others seem to not have minded restrictions on their academic freedom and were thus funded.
While the scientists and engineers of the university system were for the better part able to resist having the results of their science coerced, the same independence can not be said of the UNLV administration which under President Maxson caved in to the State's anti-Yucca Mountain party-line. A case in point is what happened to Dr. Richard Wyman, whose outspoken comments in favor of Yucca Mountain were later used to deny him a promotion. In a memorable outburst by university President Maxson, who seemed on the verge of apoplexy so vehemently did he try to silence Dr. Wyman's candid comments. An article from the Nevada Monitor from 1985 gives some background:
WYMAN TESTIFIES ON SITE SAFETY
A joint hearing of the (Nevada) Senate Human Resources Committee and the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee was held at Carson City on March 15 to consider testimony on the nuclear waste repository.
In testimony before the joint committees, Richard V. Wyman expressed his support for establishment of the site at Yucca Mountain.
Dr. Wyman holds a Ph.D. in Geological Engineering from the University of Arizona, and is Professor of Engineering and Chairman of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at UNLV, as well as a member of the Nuclear Waste Management Committee of the Association of Engineering Geologists.
Wyman has also served as a Peer Reviewer of the geologic, hydrologic and engineering studies involved in the selection of the Yucca Mountain site.
"In my opinion," Wyman stated, "Nevada is the best site for a nuclear waste repository and I favor the selection of Yucca Mountain."
Wyman's testimony focused on an issue of prime concern to many, the possibility of radioactive contamination of the areas groundwater system.
"Ages of the water (from the site) show it takes thousands of years to end up in Death Valley. This is a non-problem," Wyman continued. "We live with higher levels of radiation from coal ash, brick houses, or simply from flying in an airplane at 37,000 feet."
In closing comments, Wyman stated, "Any possible ground water contamination at Yucca Mountain due to fantastically hypothetical situations ignores the fact that over 500 underground nuclear tests have been set of at NTS without any ill effects from radioactive material in the groundwater system at the test site." [ Nevada Monitor, Fall 1985]
After similar public statements made in 1990 to the press, Wyman became the focus of a mini-tornado at UNLV because President Maxson considered Wyman's comments to be out of line with the official University position, which seemed to be opposition to Yucca Mountain no matter what the science said was true. The fact that the University could have a politically correct position on a scientific matter in the first place and that Wyman's credentials as an experienced mining engineer could be questioned should have raised concerns in both the media and the academic community. Sadly, the State had so polarized the issue that they no longer believed in their own university scientists and engineers, instead trusting their fate to ill trained sociologists, environmentalists and politicians.
The unfortunate outcome of this political fratricide in the University of Nevada system is that UNLV and UNR missed a chance to become first rate engineering programs in nuclear engineering, hazardous waste handling and environmental studies. UNLV did succeed in obtaining a sophisticated super computer center as a result of the Yucca Mountain project. Incredibly, the National Science Center for Energy and the Environment came despite opposition by Senator Bryan and former governor Grant Sawyer, now head of the Sawyer Commission.
The political opposition to Yucca Mountain effectively drove a wedge between the Nevada university research system and the state's Nuclear Waste Project Office. Tens of millions of dollars in research and benefits were denied the universities in the attempt to scuttle positve results regarding Yucca Mountain. While the loss of these funds should disturb Nevadans, there is an even greater hidden loss. The Nevada university system, because of its proximity to both the Test Site and Yucca Mountain, should have been developed into a first class nuclear research facility benefitting America and the world. These dreams seem unrealizeable given the present political climate and technical staff at NWPO.