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State slaps companies, space agency for illegal waste

Published January 27, 2011 10:28 am

EnergySolutions • NASA, 4 companies accused of violating state's radioactive-class limits.
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State regulators have accused four companies and NASA of sending to EnergySolutions' site radioactive waste that's too hot for Utah.

The Radiation Control Board on Wednesday announced violation notices issued last week. Next week, the board is expected to issue another such notice against Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions for accepting the waste in violation of Utah's ban on class B and C waste.

Rusty Lundberg, division director and executive secretary for the board, saidEnergySolutions reported the violations after an internal audit. He said regulators are also talking to the company about doing "an environmental project that will benefit the citizens of Utah" in lieu of fines and penalties.

But it is not clear yet if the state will ask the company to dig up the too-hot waste.

"We need to know what kind of potential [hazard] exists," Lundberg said.

The five organizations already cited face fines and penalties of several thousand dollars each. They have 30 days to respond to the allegations.

Some of the suspect waste came to Utah from U.S. Energy Department cleanups and facilities, including the K-25 Building nuclear enrichment building cleanup in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico; and the cleanup at former Manhattan Project facilities in Washington state.

Energy Department spokeswoman Katinka Podmaniczky said her agency has not yet had the opportunity to look at the violation notices closely.

"Safety is the department's number one priority," she said, "and we will work with our contractors and EnergySolutions to fully respond to the state regulators."

Meanwhile, Utah regulators said the disposal of 23 suspect containers "poses no threat to human health or environment."

Efforts to reach four of the companies cited were unsuccessful. Materials and Energy Corp. in Oak Ridge, Tenn., faces fines and penalties of $3,250, as does CH2MHill, of Richland, Wash.

Also facing fines and penalties of $3,250 is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which already has informed the state that the single, suspect 55-gallon in question has been reassessed and is indeed acceptable at EnergySolutions.

The biggest fines and penalties — $4,875 — went to Bechtel Jacobs Co., a contractor for the Energy Department's Oak Ridge cleanup. The company had 16 containers in eight shipments last year that allegedly violate the state's 2005 ban on Class B and C wastes.

Cavanagh Services Group Inc., a Salt Lake City shipping company, faces fines and penalties of $3,250 for delivering a too-concentrated drum to the Tooele County disposal site from the Los Alamos National Laboratory more than two years ago. And, like Bechtel, Cavanagh is barred from using the EnergySolutions site until the alleged violations are resolved.

"We're concerned about it," said Cavanagh's Sue Rice. "We'll work with the state to see what we need to do to resolve the issue."

EnergySolutions did not comment on the pending notice of violation but noted that the drums were discovered when the company "applied a more stringent formula for verifying shipment data produced by our customers."

"Upon discovery, EnergySolutions notified state regulatory officials," said EnergySolutions President and CEO Val Christensen. "These 23 containers represent less than 0.0003 percent of all containers received for disposal at Clive."

Christopher Thomas, of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said the allegations indicate a troubling pattern.

"For a company the size of EnergySolutions to make such serious and repeated errors over the last two years with something as dangerous as nuclear waste," he said, "breeds deep distrust of anything else the company says."

fahys@sltrib.com