Fines from N.M. total $73 million

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DOE > Much of settlement from WIPP accident will go toward upgrading roads in Los Alamos, southern part of state

By The Staff

The state of New Mexico and the Department of Energy came to terms on a settlement in lieu of a big fine doled out by the state’s Environment Department late last year.
Thursday, the DOE and the state issued a joint statement saying they had agreed to a $73 million settlement of the state’s claims against the DOE for the department and its contractors actions related to the February 2014 accident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.
The $73 million price tag is considerably more than the fine the NMED initial levied against the DOE, but that money will go toward “mutually beneficial and critical” projects relating to state infrastructure.
Among those projects, $34 million would go toward improving roads and transportation routes around the WIPP site and another $12 million would go to improve roads around Los Alamos on which transuranic (TRU) waste would be shipped.
“The Department of Energy and the state of New Mexico have worked together to identify projects at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and the Los Alamos National Laboratory that are mutually beneficial and do not detract from cleanup at these sites,” said DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz. “I am pleased that we were able to find a solution that will allow the department to focus on resuming operations at WIPP and improving our waste management operations, while providing benefit to the environment and to local communities in New Mexico.”
Moreover, $10 million of the settlement would go to upgrading water infrastructure in Los Alamos and nearly that much toward increasing Los Alamos National Laboratory’s storm water flow monitoring capabilities.
In December 2014, the NMED announced it was slapping DOE with a $54 million fine for a total of 37 reported violations committed by LANL and WIPP.
In two recent reports released by federal investigators, it was determined that the accident at WIPP, which was traced back to faulty preparation of a waste barrel at LANL, was preventable.
Gov. Susana Martinez issued a statement along with Moniz Thursday, saying the settlement was the right way to go.
“This agreement underscores the importance of WIPP and LANL as critical assets to our nation’s security, our state’s economy, and the communities in which they operate,” Martinez said. “The funds we will receive through the agreement will be used to continue ensuring the safety and success of these important facilities, the people who work there, and their local communities. I commend the Department of Energy for taking responsibility, and we look forward to continuing to work with the federal government to ensure the safety and success of LANL and WIPP.”
The agreement, according to Martinez, provides the DOE and the contractors a chance to implement corrective action to ensure sustainable operations.
The WIPP site has been closed since the accident. No official announcement of when the site would reopen has been issued.