Nev. Whistle-blower Case Alleges Efforts to Bypass Water Meter

April 4, 2005

Two years ago in Nevada, a foreman on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project allegedly told pipe fitters to sabotage the tunnel's main water line and make a special pipe to bypass a meter that measures how much of the state's water is used.

These are the claims reported in a Labor Department whistle-blower case, as well as in interviews last month with former contract workers at the project, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Prior to being fired in May 2003 by Yucca Mountain Project contractor Bechtel SAIC, Ronald Dollens of Pahrump, Nev., said he endured "a lot of harassment" after he reported what he deemed violations of worker safety laws and Environmental Protection Agency laws, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Although it's unclear whether the bypass was actually ever installed, a labor investigator has recommended that Bechtel SAIC pay Dollens $250,000 for retaliating against him.

Dollens said there was also a separate incident in which pipe fitters designed a special pipe section enabling groundwater, pumped from a well near Yucca Mountain, to bypass the location where the state's water measurement takes place.

In November 2003, Nevada State Engineer Hugh Ricci denied the Department of Energy permanent rights to 140 million gallons per year of groundwater to build and operate a repository at Yucca Mountain for the nation's spent nuclear fuel and highly radioactive defense wastes.

However, during federal court proceedings over the issue, the state agreed to allow temporary use of water at Yucca Mountain to refill four potable water storage tanks for emergencies and restroom facilities.

In a statement filed by Dollens for a Labor Department investigation into his wrongful termination claim, he alleged that his foreman, Mike Oettinger, asked him and his coworker Dale Cain "to purposely break a line that ran into the tunnel just so we could get overtime pay fixing the pipe that would be broken."

"I told Mike, 'You're crazy,' and so did Dale. We then left and, when we came back to work on Monday, and in the Plan of the Day meeting, they told everyone to thank Mike Oettinger for coming in on his day off to fix a broken pipe. I asked Mike Oettinger if he had broken the pipe, and he just laughed and said, 'Don't ask,' " Dollens stated in his affidavit. "Nothing ever happened for this pipe sabotage."

When approached Friday by local news reporters at his home, Oettinger would not comment on the case or the allegations.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal & The Associated Press