NM Nuke Waste Site Settlements

Tuesday, January 26, 2016 @ 06:01 PM gHale

The issues surrounding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, NM, are coming to an end as two settlement agreements ended up signed to resolve the State of New Mexico Environment Department’s claims against the Department of Energy (DoE) after the February 2014 incidents.

The New Mexico Environment Department, the DoE and its contractors signed the pact.

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In February 2014, there was a truck fire and an unrelated release of radiation several days later contaminated 22 workers and forced the closure of the plant.

The leak at the WIPP exposed 22 workers to radiation in amounts not expected to threaten their health, and indefinitely suspended key operations at the site, the Energy Department’s only permanent underground disposal facility for certain types of radiological waste from U.S. nuclear labs.

The radiation accident cause was the result of “chemically incompatible” contents, including cat litter, which reacted in a barrel of waste and caused it to rupture, according to a federal probe of the mishap.

Under the agreements, which provide funding and scheduling parameters for a set of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in the Carlsbad and Los Alamos communities, New Mexico’s roads, water infrastructure, and emergency response infrastructure will receive critical improvements. The finalized settlement agreements are from the State of New Mexico’s and DoE’s General Principles of Agreement signed by the parties on April 30, 2015.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and WIPP are critical assets to our nation’s security, our state’s economy, and the communities in which they operate,” said New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. “The funds New Mexico will receive through this agreement will help ensure the future safety and success of these facilities, the people who work at them, and their local communities. We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government to ensure the safety and success of both LANL and WIPP.”

“We are pleased to resolve the Administrative Compliance Orders so that we can continue to focus full attention on resuming and improving our waste management operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “The projects we are funding as part of this settlement are important investments in the health and safety of New Mexicans who work at or live nearby DOE facilities, and will enhance our operations.”

These projects, estimated at $74 million, include:
• $34 million to help the NM Department of Transportation to make necessary repairs to New Mexico roads used for the transportation of transuranic waste to WIPP in the southeastern portion of New Mexico. The first project is to repair the WIPP North Access Road, an approximately 13-mile stretch of road between Highway 62-180 and the WIPP site
• $4 million to fund the construction of and equipment for an offsite emergency operations center near WIPP operated by DoE
• $1 million to fund enhanced training and capabilities for local emergency responders, in and around Carlsbad, NM, including funding for training and exercises with local mine rescue teams
• Up to $12 million to improve DoE-owned transportation routes at LANL used to ship transuranic waste to WIPP
• $10 million to replace aging potable water lines and install metering equipment for LANL potable water systems
• $7.5 million to design and install engineering structures in canyons in and around LANL to slow storm water flow and decrease sediment load to improve water quality
• $2.5 million to fund increased sampling and monitoring capabilities for storm water runoff in and around LANL, with the results of the sampling and monitoring to end up shared with the public and NMED
• $3 million for agreements to conduct external triennial compliance reviews of environmental regulatory compliance and operations at WIPP and LANL.

The agreements further require DoE and its contractors implement the necessary corrective actions at both facilities in order to ensure safe and sustainable continued operations to resolve the State of New Mexico Environment Department’s Administrative Compliance Orders issued in December of 2014, which totaled $54.3 million in civil penalties.