Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Hanford Operator Facing Doe Fines Safety Lapses Alleged In Handling Of Plutonium

The U.S. Department of Energy said Monday it will fine a Hanford contractor for alleged safety lapses at a plant where plutonium was released during a May 1997 explosion.

The agency proposed a $140,625 civil penalty for site operator Fluor Daniel Hanford Co. for violations of nuclear safety rules at the Plutonium Finishing Plant before, during and after the explosion on May 14, 1997.

The four nuclear safety violations are considered to be level II on a three-step scale of severity, with level I the most severe, said Peter N. Brush, acting assistant secretary of the department’s Office of Environment, Safety and Health.

The violations had the potential for a criticality accident, where an unregulated chain reaction of plutonium occurs, Brush said.

“We treat that very seriously, even when there is no harm,” he said.

Subsequent actions by Fluor Daniel Hanford to correct the violations helped mitigate the proposed fines, he said.

The department’s Office of Enforcement and Investigation found Fluor Daniel and its subcontractors failed numerous times to follow rules for safe handling and transportation of plutonium between November 1996 and June 1997.

The company was fined $37,500 for each of three incidents involving the handling of plutonium in the PFP. They included transportation of 167 grams of plutonium and two incidents where too much plutonium was placed in “gloveboxes” for handling nuclear materials.

The company also was fined for failing to comply with established document change, surveillance, emergency response and radiological control procedures stemming from the PFP explosion. A civil penalty of $28,125 was assessed for those alleged violations.

Fluor Daniel Hanford spokesmen did not immediately return calls for comment Monday afternoon.

The Energy Department fine, which the company cannot recover from contract reimbursements, is the second stemming from the PFP explosion.

The state of Washington last year fined the Energy Department, Fluor Daniel Hanford and PFP manager Babcock & Wilcox Hanford Inc. a total of $110,000 for lack of emergency preparedness and improper storage of hazardous chemicals.