DOE, Contractor Reach Agreement on Possible Safety\rViolations

The Department of Energy and Mason & Hanger Corp., the\r\ncontractor at the Pantex Plant outside Amarillo, Texas, have resolved\r\na potential nuclear safety violation.

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The Department of Energy and Mason & Hanger Corp., the contractor at the Pantex Plant outside Amarillo, Texas, have resolved a potential nuclear safety violation with a $75,000 payment by Mason & Hanger to the government.

Specific terms of the agreement are outlined in a consent order signed last week by DOE and the contractor.

The order covers activities from January 1998 to November 1999 involving fire suppression valves not performing as intended.

While there was no accident and no workers were injured or exposed to radiation, an internal investigation by Mason & Hanger revealed programmatic problems with work process procedures at the site.

"We were concerned that these work process problems seemed to reappear at Pantex, but the contractor has made every effort to voluntarily disclose, fully investigate and effectively fix the problem," said Dr. David Michaels, DOE assistant secretary for environment, safety and health. "We use the consent order instead of formal enforcement proceedings where we want to recognize and encourage that kind of behavior while ensuring that important safety problems are fixed."

The $75,000 payment to the Treasury Department is less than the amount of a civil penalty that could have been levied through the formal enforcement process.

The use of a consent order is reversed for cases where it is clear to DOE that the contractor has acted aggressively and thoroughly to identify and correct potential violations.

The only previous use of a consent order was in April 1998 with Kaiser Hill Co. at the department''s Rocky Flats Environmental Technology site near Denver, Colo.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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