Firm May Face Penalties After Leak at Nuclear Burial Ground

Global Security Newswire Staff
June 25, 2014, 7:28 a.m.

A new fed­er­al probe may lead to steep pen­al­ties for the op­er­at­or of a nuc­le­ar-waste dump where con­tam­in­ants es­caped, the Santa Fe New Mex­ic­an re­ports.

One is­sue ex­pert said the En­ergy De­part­ment En­force­ment Of­fice in­quiry in­to po­ten­tial pro­ced­ur­al breaches at the Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant “could have im­plic­a­tions for the en­tire con­tract” held by Nuc­le­ar Waste Part­ner­ship, the news­pa­per re­por­ted on Tues­day. The firm — a lim­ited li­ab­il­ity com­pany formed by Areva, Bab­cock & Wil­cox and URS — man­ages the site for roughly $130 mil­lion each year.

“The pen­alty can be from zero up to some dol­lar pen­al­ties up to ul­ti­mately los­ing the con­tract,” said Don Han­cock, head of the South­w­est Re­search and In­form­a­tion Cen­ter in Al­buquerque. “This in­vest­ig­a­tion is not go­ing to make that de­term­in­a­tion, but it can play in­to some of that de­term­in­a­tion.”

The fed­er­al agency in­formed the firm about the planned probe last week, roughly four months after a vehicle at the site caught fire and a ra­di­ation re­lease forced or­din­ary work at the re­pos­it­ory to cease.

“It could be a very big deal, be­cause in my view the in­vest­ig­a­tion should be ask­ing some really hard ques­tions,” Han­cock ad­ded.

New Mex­ico’s state gov­ern­ment can­not is­sue fines lar­ger than $10,000 for each day of an en­vir­on­ment­al breach, but fed­er­al au­thor­it­ies have no such lim­it, ac­cord­ing to the New Mex­ic­an.

Ac­cord­ing to En­ergy De­part­ment spokes­man Ben Wil­li­ams, “WIPP’s fed­er­al and con­tract­or work­force will con­tin­ue the highest level of co­oper­a­tion and open­ness to help the Of­fice of En­force­ment col­lect all of the in­form­a­tion ne­ces­sary to com­plete its in­vest­ig­a­tion.”

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