New Mexico fines US government $54 million for violations at nuclear waste facility

Regulators in New Mexico have fined the US government for over $54 million because of violations at a nuclear waste facility which resulted in a fire and two radiation leaks.

According to the New Mexico Environment Department, there were 37 violations of its hazardous waste permits on the part of the U.S. Department of Energy at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Santa Fe.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said in a statement:

“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,”

New Mexico has said that the energy agency is to blame for major procedural problems that caused a badly maintained salt truck catching fire on February 7 at the Carlsbad plant, in addition to the improper packaging of a Los Alamos National Laboratory barrel of waste rupturing at the same site a week later.

The leak at the plant resulted in 22 workers being exposed to low levels of radiation, which is not expected to pose any threat to their health, says the Nuclear Waste Partnership, a contractor that operates the facility.

The state said that the response by the federal energy agency and the contractor was “less than adequate”.

In total the energy agency faces $17.7 million in fines for violations at the plant and $36.6 million for lab violations.

According to Reuters, because of the incidents, operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (a salt mine where radioactive material is dumped) will be put on hold for at least five years.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost for initial recovery of the plant is estimated to be around $240 million.