The U.S. Department of Energy has settled with the state of New Mexico over nuclear leak incidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, resulting in $73 million to be used toward roadways and water infrastructure improvements in the area.
According to a report by the Albuquerque Journal, radiation leaked from the facility in early 2014 due to a chemical reaction caused by nuclear waste stored in drums packed with nitrate salts and organic cat litter.
The resulting shutdown of the facility has led to nuclear waste being held in various locations throughout the country, including the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the report added.
The state had previously requested the DOE provide $54.35 million in civil penalties under two Administrative Consent Orders outlining 31 violations at the WIPP and the LANL. This settlement addresses that request and covers “any other potential DOE and DOE-contractor liabilities” related to the leak at the WIPP.
Rather than paying fines, the DOE is supporting the following projects “that will protect local communities and better safeguard transportation routes in New Mexico and around DOE sites.”
- $34 million to improve roads and transportation routes around the WIPP site in Southeastern New Mexico
- $12 million to improve transuranic waste transportation routes in and around Los Alamos
- $10 million to upgrade critical water infrastructure in and around Los Alamos
- $9.5 million to build engineering structures and increase monitoring capabilities around LANL to better manage storm water flows
- $5 million to construct an emergency operations center in Carlsbad and provide enhanced training for emergency responders and mine rescue teams
- $2.75 million to fund an independent triennial compliance and operational review
“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,” said New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. “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.”
“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,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz added.