Westinghouse Hanford Co. was fined $37,500 on Thursday for a February incident in which a worker was exposed to radiation from nuclear waste storage tanks.
The Department of Energy said it was the first time a civil penalty had been assessed against one of its contractors since new safety rules were adopted last October.
“With this penalty, we are putting our contractors on notice that the DOE enforcement program is up and running, and that we will not hesitate to act when nuclear safety rules are violated,” Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary said in a news release.
A DOE official said the accident was preventable.
“It was the result of inadequate attention to the basics,” said Tara O’Toole, an assistant DOE secretary for safety.
In the February incident, a worker at the underground tanks farms that contain the most dangerous wastes received radiation exposure on his hands.
The worker was removing a temperature-measuring device that had become contaminated with radioactivity from a storage tank. The exposure occurred when the worker was improperly permitted to be on a work platform and shook the device to remove a blockage, the DOE said.
The worker received a radiation dose of 13 rem, which is still below the annual limit allowed for Hanford workers, the DOE said.
But the agency “determined that a penalty was warranted because a more serious overexposure could have easily occurred under the same conditions,” the DOE said.