LAS VEGAS — Three examiners were removed from their audit positions after they uncovered new quality control flaws in the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, one of the examiners said.
Their efforts resulted in the Energy Department's issuance of a "stop work" order in March to its main Yucca contractor, Bechtel SAIC, until problems were fixed.
A DOE spokesman said Friday the flaws involved the formation of program procedures and were not expected to slow the project.
But others said stop work orders were rare and signify important errors. They said the latest problems were symptomatic of quality control troubles that DOE has struggled with for years as it develops a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
A month after DOE issued its stop work order, members of the surveillance team were told they were being removed from audit and verification duties, said one of the workers, Don Harris.
The team is employed by contractor Navarro Research and Engineering Inc.
"The schedule appeared to be more important than the quality of the work," said Harris, who thinks his removal was linked to the audit.
Harris has asked an internal DOE board to investigate and passed on concerns to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The 14-year Navarro employee said he was told April 9 that he was being removed from verification activities because he made "grievance statements" about DOE at a March 18 meeting involving the auditors and a Bechtel team discussing the stop work order.
Harris said Robert Hasson, Navarro's project manager for Yucca Mountain, told him Friday he was being returned to his old duties. Hasson did not respond to messages, and a spokesman could not be reached at Navarro's headquarters in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Harris said George Harper, who was brought over from another Navarro program group to assist the surveillance team, also was removed from verification duties. Lester Wagner, who oversaw the surveillance team, also was pressured into a reassignment, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.