WIPP contractor received $1.9 million bonus from DOE following fire

A team of discovery workers prepares to enter the site of a radiation leak at the WIPP nuclear waste repository earlier this year. (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)

The Albuequerque Journal reported today:

Just five days after an underground truck fire closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the Energy Department awarded the contractor that operates the nuclear repository $1.9 million for “excellent” performance during the past year.

After WIPP suffered a radiation release, an independent review arrived at a different of assesmment of contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership:

One radiation leak and two sharply worded accident investigation reports later slamming the same contractor for long-running safety and maintenance problems, that award now looks to some like insult atop injury.

How could there have been such a disconnect between the Department of Energy’s own assessment of its contractor’s performance and what independent investigators would find soon after?

The answer isn’t clear and neither are the consequences to the DOE’s local field office, headquarters or to operating contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership – leaving some observers asking why there haven’t been more repercussions for documented failings throughout the system.

Those failings included allowing diesel fuel engine oil to build up on the truck that caught fire and, although the investigation is still ongoing into how and why a hot reaction cracked open a drum of nuclear waste, included a laundry list of maintenance deficiencies that contributed to a small amount of radiation being released into the environment.

An industry expert said that the problem following the two incidents was a lack of responsiblity:

“Efforts to hold individuals or entities accountable remain unclear,” wrote Martin Schneider, chief executive of ExchangeMonitor Publications, in an editorial in the closely watched Weapons Complex Monitor. “No federal or contractor official has lost their job, been transferred, been moved off the WIPP contract or otherwise held accountable. No leadership has changed at the federal level. No company has lost a contract.”

The only consequences NWP has faced so far was a small DOE fine:

Last month, the DOE levied the only financial penalty against NWP since the February truck fire and radiation leak, according to a WIPP spokeswoman: a $2 million, or 25 percent, reduction in the nearly $8.2 million fee available in fiscal 2014, as a result of the fire.

But the contractor can earn back 50 percent of that amount for good performance or corrective actions.

A city of Carlsbad, New Mexico, task force also had a harsh assessment of the plant:

“They’ve always gotten their full bonus,” said John Heaton, head of the Carlsbad mayor’s Nuclear Task Force. “The main focus of that bonus was getting waste into the facility and, in my opinion, there was very little emphasis on safety or training that will keep WIPP open 30 or 50 years.”

Sounds a lot like the attitude of the operators of the Waste Control Specialists’ Andrews County, Texas, dump, if you ask me.


About Robert Singleton

By day, I work for a call center. In my spare time, I try to save my hometown (and planet) from a nearly constant onslaught of greedheads, lunatics and land developers. I live in a fictional town called Austin, Texas, where I go to way too many meetings.
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