A former tunnel worker at the nation's nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert filed suit Thursday against Energy Department contractors, claiming the companies deliberately exposed employees to toxic dust at the Yucca Mountain project.
The civil lawsuit, filed in state court in Las Vegas, seeks class-action status and unspecified damages.
It alleges the companies "intentionally and fraudulently concealed the truth about the hazards at Yucca Mountain" and "placed a higher priority on ... deadlines than they did on human safety and health."
It claims the companies knew workers and visitors were exposed to dangerous levels of silica, erionite, and other toxic dusts during tunneling from 1992 to 1996.
"This lawsuit will expose an outrageous fraud against the work force and even the visitors at Yucca Mountain, one that's already killing people," said plaintiff Gene Griego, a former a Los Alamos, N.M., national laboratory employee who worked as a tunnel supervisor at the Yucca Mountain site.
Griego, a nonsmoker who lives in Las Vegas, was diagnosed last year with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The 27-page complaint filed in Clark County District Court lawsuit names TRW Automotive Holdings of Livonia, Mich.; San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp., Bechtel SAIC Corp. and Nevada subsidiaries on the Yucca Mountain project; the Kiewit Group, based in Omaha, Neb.; Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction of New York and subsidiaries; and Morrison-Knudsen, now known as Washington Group International of Boise, Idaho.
Bechtel SAIC spokeswoman Beatrice Reilly in Las Vegas declined comment, saying the companies had not yet seen it. Requests for comment from Parsons Brinckerhoff, TRW, Kiewit and Washington Group were not immediately returned.
The Energy Department is developing the Yucca site for the federal government. It gained Bush administration and congressional approval in 2002 to bury 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive waste at the site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The agency plans to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of the year for a license to operate the repository.
Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said Thursday that because the DOE was not named as a party to the lawsuit, it would not comment.
But he said the health and safety of Yucca Mountain workers "has been and continues to be our first priority" and noted the agency has a free medical screening program for current and former workers.
In January, Yucca Mountain project managers began a lung disease screening program for current and former workers, saying up to 1,500 current and former Yucca Mountain site workers may have inhaled airborne silica at Yucca Mountain.
Last month, the Energy Department started an investigation of whether notes were altered to misrepresent potentially hazardous dust levels at the site.
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