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State regulators want to fine EnergySolutions Inc. $80,000 for burying low-level radioactive waste that exceeds the state's hazard limits, and they are asking the company to take on an environmental project as part of its penalty.
The fines are part of a "notice of violation" issued Thursday by the Utah Radiation Control Board. The proposed penalties stem from 23 containers of waste from government cleanups that were too hazardous to meet safety limits for burial at the company's mile-square disposal site in Tooele County.
"EnergySolutions did report the problem to us, and we did consider that when we determined the penalties," said Rusty Lundberg, director of the Division of Radiation Control, in a news release. "Although we appreciate the cooperative efforts to resolve the errors, we will continue to ensure a process is in place to prevent this from happening again."
Acting in his role as the radiation board's executive secretary, Lundberg signed five violation notices last month for the four government contractors and NASA for bringing the waste to Utah.
The company buried the waste during the past two years. Then it discovered during a self-audit in December that the containers amounted to a violation of its state license.
Val Christensen, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City nuclear-waste company, said EnergySolutions recognized unauthorized containers would mean penalties.
"We feel the fines are appropriate," he said, "and will work with the state to plan and complete a state-approved supplemental environmental project."
EnergySolutions has 30 days to officially respond to the proposed enforcement action. Company officials continue to negotiate with regulators concerning the type of environmental project that will be required and what to do about the 23 worrisome barrels.
Since 2005, it has been illegal to dispose of radioactive waste in Utah that is more hazardous than Class A. By definition under federal law, Class A waste loses most of its hazardous characteristics in a century.
Low-level waste that has a higher classification, such as the material that wound up at EnergySolutions' Utah site, continues to be hazardous for up to 500 years.
Christopher Thomas, executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, applauded the state's action on the violations.
"EnergySolutions made repeated, fundamental errors that led to illegal nuclear-waste shipments coming here," Thomas said. "We're glad to see the state taking action now, especially when EnergySolutions has started to decommission entire nuclear reactors that contain lots of waste above the legal limit."
Last month, violation notices went out to the five EnergySolutions disposal customers that sent the excessively hazardous waste to Utah. The fines ranged from $3,250 to $4,875 for each customer and totaled $17,875.
Lundberg said the violators have checked their own waste-monitoring systems to understand how the errors occurred and have improved their quality controls to ensure the mistakes don't happen again.
On the question of whether or not to dig up the waste, no decision has been made, he added. It could be that removing the containers poses a bigger risk than leaving them where they are.
"We're not eliminating that as a possibility," Lundberg said.
As part of its state license, the company routinely uses computers to assess the waste going to the Tooele County site. A reanalysis of past shipments using updated software turned up the problem containers and prompted EnergySolutions to report them to the radiation division.
Usually, when EnergySolutions identifies containers of improper waste, it returns them to the sender before it is even unloaded. See the violation letter
It was sent by the state to EnergySolutions on Thursday: