Violation notices issued for WIPP incidents

22 February 2016

The US Department of Energy has issued notices against Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) and Los Alamos National Security (LANS) for violations of its nuclear safety requirements regarding two 2014 incidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, marking the completion of its investigations and enforcement processes.

NWP is the department's management and operating contractor for the plant, while LANS is the National Nuclear Security Administration's management and operating contractor for the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The department announced on 19 February that it had issued a Preliminary Notice of Violation (PNOV) to NWP for violations of worker safety and health and nuclear safety requirements. At the same time, its National Nuclear Security Administration issued a PNOV to LANS for violations of nuclear safety requirements at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The violations by NWP relate to two unrelated incidents that occurred at the plant in February 2014 - an underground truck fire, then an unrelated radiological release following the rupture of a waste barrel. The violations by LANS are associated with processes used at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to package and remediate transuranic waste drums, one of which was linked to the radiological release at the plant.

The department said it has already taken "significant adverse contract and fee actions" against NWP and LANS and therefore is proposing that no civil penalties are awarded against them for the violations. Actions taken by the DOE coupled with an inability to earn fees while the plant remains out of service resulted in NWP failing to receive 93% of its available fee, equivalent to about $7.6 million, in fiscal 2014. The National Nuclear Security Administration reduced the total contract fee awarded to LANS by over 90% - about $57 million - and also reduced the potential length of the company's contract by two years.

The DOE recently finalized agreements worth $74 million with the New Mexico Environment Department in settlement of claims related to the incidents.

The New Mexico facility, where military-origin transuranic wastes in sealed drums are disposed of underground in rooms mined out of an ancient salt formation, has been out of action since the radiological release. A program of recovery actions including improvements to underground fire safety, radiological risk mitigation, underground stability, ventilation and emergency response capabilities is nearing completion and the facility is expected to resume operations by the end of 2016.

When all the recovery actions have been completed the facility will undergo an eight-week integrated cold operations program using empty containers, a series of formal readiness activities, and internal reviews and evaluations as well as independent assessments from regulators before it can receive authorization to resume waste emplacement.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News