DOE in Settlement With New Mexico Will Spend Millions on State Infrastructure

AASHTO Journal, 15 May 2015

The U.S. Department of Energy will pay the state of New Mexico $73 million for improvements to roads and other infrastructure to settle penalties the state had sought over a February 2014 leak of radioactive material.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that a drum of radioactive waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory had ruptured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, which “released radiation into the environment and contaminated nearly two dozen workers.”

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz jointly announced the terms of the settlement, which resolves more than $54.3 million in civil penalties sought by the New Mexico Environmental Department and “any other potential DOE and DOE-contractor liabilities” stemming from that event.

The NMED, after investigating both the materials leak and an underground fire at the WIPP, cited the two facilities in December for 37 violations of state hazardous waste permits. It also said: “NMED’s findings confirm the existence of major procedural problems that contributed to these events, and also found a less than adequate response.”

Under this agreement, they said, instead of paying fines the DOE “will provide support for a variety of mutually beneficial and critical projects that will protect local communities and better safeguard transportation routes in New Mexico and around DOE sites,” to improve the safety and security of nuclear materials and the designated roads they use.

Those projects include about $34 million to improve roads and transportation routes around the WIPP site in southeastern New Mexico, plus $12 million “to improve transuranic waste transportation routes in and around Los Alamos.”

The accord also lists $10 million to upgrade critical water infrastructure in and around Los Alamos; $9.5 million to build engineering structures and increase monitoring capabilities around Los Alamos to better manage storm water flows; $5 million to build an emergency operations center in Carlsbad and provide enhanced training for emergency responders; and $2.75 million “to fund an independent triennial compliance and operational review.”

The Journal reported that the settlement “will be funded by money not paid to the site contractors at LANL and WIPP in fiscal 2014, after their performance fees were severely docked in the aftermath of the radiation leak.”

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