U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall issued the following statement Saturday on the state of New Mexico’s decision to fine the U.S. Department of Energy over $54 million for numerous violations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Los Alamos National Laboratory:
“The investigation by the state of New Mexico found that the accident last February put at risk the health of workers and the nearby community. The action the state has taken is appropriate and shows why I have long fought for state environmental authority over WIPP waste operations. WIPP and LANL are a vital part of New Mexico’s economy and our national security, and with such high stakes, there is no room for error or denial. Fines should not come out of DOE clean-up activities, and those responsible should not get bonuses or rewards for their mistakes. Further investigation into what led to the radiation release at WIPP will determine whether more penalties or action are necessary.”
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced Saturday following a nine month long investigation into serious incidents that it is saddling WIPP as well as LANL, with $54 million worth of fines for violations the state found when investigating after the radiation leak in February.
NMED notified the DOE of violations of state hazardous waste permits for both WIPP and LANL relating to DOE’s handling of transuranic (TRU) waste that contributed to two significant incidents at WIPP earlier this year.
“New Mexico is proud of our national labs and cutting-edge scientific facilities, and we have important rules in place to protect those facilities, the people who work there, and all New Mexicans,” Gov. Susana Martinez said. “The health and safety of New Mexicans will always be our priority and we have to hold federal agencies accountable for safe operations in the state of New Mexico. The federal Department of Energy is a strong partner with us, and we will continue to work with them closely to ensure their success in our state.”
Following a comprehensive and intense investigation through more than nine months, NMED found multiple violations at both WIPP and LANL and has issued two Administrative Compliance Orders (ACO).
- ACO 14-21 identifies a total of 13 violations at WIPP, resulting in civil penalties of $17,746,250; and
- ACO 14-20 identifies a total of 24 violations at LANL, resulting in civil penalties of $36,604,649.
The investigation included both the Feb. 5 underground fire and the Feb. 14 radiological release, both at the WIPP facility. NMED’s findings confirm the existence of major procedural problems that contributed to these events, and also found a less than adequate response.
“WIPP and LANL are critical assets to our economy and communities, and it’s so important that we work hard to protect their integrity and the safety of the surrounding communities,” NMED Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn said. “These civil penalties follow a thorough investigation and are important to ensuring the continued safety and success of these important facilities. We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government to ensure the safety and success of both LANL and WIPP.”
In addition to the civil penalties, NMED stipulated that federal dollars marked for environmental cleanup or operational needs at LANL and WIPP cannot be used to pay these penalties. NMED also has required that the federal agency submit compliance updates over the next 60 days. DOE has an opportunity to demonstrate future compliance, which could trigger penalty reductions if DOE can assure New Mexicans of safe future operations.