$1.1 Million Fine for Los Alamos Would Be Waived

By Avni Patel

Sep 14, 2006 3:10pm

A proposed $1.1 million fine for safety violations at Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory will never be collected because the operator, the University of California, is a non-profit organization and exempt from such fines by federal law, according to a Department of Energy document. But for the exemption, the proposed fine would have been the largest civilian penalty ever issued by the agency’s nuclear enforcement program.  "There’s been no penalty to pay when you contaminate workers and do serious damage to workers. And they have a history of it too, a long history,"  says Pete Stockton, a senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight and a former Department of Energy official. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Research Reactors on College Campuses Are Still at Risk Bio-Warfare Laboratory Causes Great Concern Click Here for More of the Brian Ross Page In a draft letter, obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and reviewed by ABC News, the Department of Energy found 15 separate instances where Los Alamos had violated nuclear safety rules while investigating several incidents involving the release of radioactive materials in 2005. The letter states that the fine reflects the lab’s "continuing failure to adequately address and correct identified deficiencies." Los Alamos was shut down for six months in 2004 and 2005, after a lab intern was injured in a laser accident and two classified computer disks were lost, costing taxpayers at least $370 million. A month after it re-opened, a worker who mishandled radioactive material spread contamination to houses and cars in four states. In another incident later in the year, several workers were exposed to highly carcinogenic plutonium. A DOE spokesman would not comment on the proposed fine, but said that any documents related to the ongoing investigation were only drafts. The University of California has been exempt from $3.4 million in fines over the last decade. Los Alamos will be required to pay fines for future violations now that it is partnering with Bechtel, a for-profit contractor. The University also manages the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.  A spokesman said that safety and security are a top priority for the University and that a number of corrective actions have been taken for improving safety at Los Alamos.

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