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Department of Energy Fines Contractor $192,500 for Nuclear Safety Violations

The Department of Energy recently notified Washington TRU Solutions LLC the contractor in charge of an underground radioactive waste storage site in Carlsbad, N.M. that the agency will fine the company $192,500 for violations of the department's nuclear safety requirements.

The preliminary notice of violation issued in late December cites a number of deficiencies that led to a series of low-level plutonium exposures in 2004 by workers at a Washington TRU Solutions mobile facility (MOVER) stationed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

According to the Department of Energy, the violations reflected Washington TRU Solutions' limited understanding of the design and operational limitations of the MOVER facility, a portable waste processing facility designed to be transported to and operated at various agency sites.

"Although no regulatory exposure limits were exceeded, the consequences had the potential to be more significant," said John Shaw, assistant secretary for environment, safety and health. "It's important that these problems be corrected before a more serious event occurs."

Company Has Taken 'Aggressive Corrective Actions'

Susan Scott, a spokesperson for Washington TRU Solutions, said the company has taken "aggressive corrective actions" since the plutonium exposures in 2004.

"The uptakes were a tenth of the federal occupational limit," Scott said. "Nonetheless, any unplanned uptake is something that is very serious and has to be looked into and corrected."

Scott explained that the company, since the uptakes, has inspected all of the sites at which it is active to look for "operational weaknesses" and any other similar deficiencies that need to be corrected.

"Any corrective actions that have needed to be done, we've done," Scott said.

The company likely will not contest the Department of Energy citations, Scott said.

Washington TRU Solutions is the contractor that manages and operates the Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M. The waste isolation plant, according to the agency, is world's first underground repository licensed to safely and permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste left over from the research and production of nuclear weapons.

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