The government’s new contractor to run Los Alamos includes the same manager it effectively fired for safety problems

Despite a lengthy record of safety violations, the University of California will continue its 75-year legacy of running Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration announced Friday. A management partnership that includes the university, research and development nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute and Texas A&M University, the alma mater of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, will be paid $2.5 billion annually to run Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. They’re calling their partnership Triad National Security LLC. The contract could be worth upward of $25 billion over the next decade, with hundreds of millions of dollars more in performance-based bonus fees. Six other corporations will join the team in support roles.

Nuclear weapons contractors repeatedly violate shipping rules for dangerous materials

Plutonium capable of being used in a nuclear weapon, conventional explosives, and highly toxic chemicals have been improperly packaged or shipped by nuclear weapons contractors at least 25 times in the past five years, according to government documents. While the materials were not ultimately lost, the documents reveal repeated instances in which hazardous substances vital to making nuclear bombs and their components were mislabeled before shipment. That means those transporting and receiving them were not warned of the safety risks and did not take required precautions to protect themselves or the public, the reports say. The risks were discovered after regulators conducted inspections during transit, when the packages were opened at their destinations, during scientific analysis after the items were removed from packaging, or — in the worst cases — after releases of radioactive contaminants by unwary recipients, the Center for Public Integrity’s investigation showed. Only a few, slight penalties appear to have been imposed for these mistakes.

Bury excess plutonium, don’t turn it into fuel, study says

A team of experts has confirmed what the Energy Department has been saying for two years — that burying 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium would be far cheaper and more practical than completing a multibillion-dollar plant that would turn the radioactive material into commercial reactor fuel. The report raises pressure on Congress to walk away from a costly project that has been plagued by rapidly escalating costs and an absence of any customers for the fuel it is supposed to produce. The Department of Energy tried to kill the project in 2013, but Congress has kept it on budgetary life support, with the strong support of South Carolina’s congressional delegation. The study says essentially that sooner or later the Energy Department will be forced to abandon the fuel plant, and the sooner it does so the better. “The downward performance spiral [expected for the plant] is accompanied by an upward cost escalation spiral that would eventually make DOE’s path-forward decision for them,” the report concluded, “but only after a great deal of money has been wasted.”

The report was delivered to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz this week by an Energy Department “Red Team” led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Mason.

Thirteen years and counting: anatomy of an EPA civil rights investigation

SANTA FE—On June 26, 2014, Deborah Reade got a certified letter from the Environmental Protection Agency that was nearly a decade in the making. “During the course of the EPA’s investigation,” the letter read, “it was determined that additional information is needed to clarify this allegation.”

Reade was incredulous. Her original complaint to the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights, in 2002, seemed like a lifetime ago. Back then, she was research director for a group called Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping. She’d alerted the agency to a potential pattern of discrimination against Spanish-speaking residents by the New Mexico Environment Department.

DOE settles with state for $73 million over WIPP leak (updated)

On Thursday, Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Gov. Susana Martinez announced a $73 million settlement for claims from the state in relation to a leak of radioactive materials from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in early 2014. The $73 million settlement will go towards projects in the state around Department of Energy sites, including WIPP and Los Alamos National Laboratory. In late 2014, the state announced fines of $54.3 million for hazardous waste violations by the Department of Energy. The fines came after an investigation from the New Mexico Environment Department. Earlier this year, a report stated that the state Environment Department was considering $100 million or more in additional fines.

Yes in our backyard too, officials say

Local officials in southeastern New Mexico as well as the Susana Martinez administration are pushing for more nuclear waste to be sent to southeastern New Mexico. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on a letter from Gov. Susana Martinez to Department of Energy secretary Earnest Moniz. The letter asked the Barack Obama administration to consider southeastern New Mexico as a location to hold spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants. The New Mexican also has a copy of the letter available online. From the New Mexican:
“Time and time again, the citizens of southeastern New Mexico have impressed me with their hard work ethic and willingness to tackle national problems that many others consider to be unsolvable,” Martinez wrote.