Two settlement agreements to resolve claims against the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractors related to the February 2014 incidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad and the associated activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) by The New Mexico Environment Department, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractors signed
Two isolated events took place at the WIPP in February. On February 5, a salt haul truck caught fire. Workers were evacuated, and the underground portion of WIPP was shut down. Six workers were treated for smoke inhalation.
Nine days later, late in the evening of February 14, a second, unrelated event occurred when a continuous air monitor (CAM) alarmed during the night shift. Only 11 employees were at the WIPP site on the surface, and no employees were in the underground.
Two other WIPP employees reported to the site a couple of hours later. The CAM measured airborne radioactivity close to the operating location where waste was being emplaced. Ventilation air is pulled from the underground repository by huge fans on the surface. This exhaust consists of unfiltered air.
The agreements provide funding and scheduling parameters for a set of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in both the Carlsbad and Los Alamos communities.
The agreements require that the DOE and its contractors implement the necessary corrective actions at both radioactive waste treatment facilities in order to ensure safe and sustainable continued operations.
As part of the deal New Mexico’s roads, water infrastructure, and emergency response infrastructure will receive critical improvements. The finalized settlement agreements are based on the State of New Mexico’s and DOE’s General Principles of Agreement signed by the parties on April 30, 2015.
They also resolve the State of New Mexico Environment Department’s Administrative Compliance Orders issued in December of 2014, which totalled $54.3 million in civil penalties.
“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.”
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz added: “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.”
The projects funded are estimated at a total value of $74 million and include:
- $34 million to help the N.M. 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 to be 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 be 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.
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