Jan 4, 2008
The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday recommended a $288,750 fine against Battelle Memorial Institute for nuclear safety violations at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
However, Battelle is exempt from civil penalties for nuclear safety violations under its current contract and will not have to pay the fine. A nonprofit, Battelle does not plan to appeal the recommendation, spokesman Greg Koller said.
"Our performance certainly wasn't adequate here. We failed to live up to our own expectations and values," Koller said. "But, that said, we did mount a comprehensive response to these events, and we're committed strongly to implementing the corrective actions that were identified in all of this."
Among the steps taken by Battelle were improved training, more rigorous radiation surveys and adjustments to workers' handling procedures for sealed radiological sources, Koller said.
The violations centered on Battelle's oversight of radiological contaminants.
In December 2006, there was an airborne release of plutonium from a glovebox in a laboratory. The release was contained to the room, but resulted in low levels of contamination to a researcher and two visiting scientists.
In June 2007, four laboratory workers received minor radioactive contamination while conducting research when a sealed source of plutonium leaked. Those workers then traveled offsite and spread the contamination to three family members.
The Energy Department said the proposed penalty is based on the significance of the violations, yet reflects Battelle's efforts to prevent a recurrence of the problems.
Battelle has managed the laboratory for the Energy Department under a series of extended contracts since the lab's inception in 1965. Under federal law, Battelle does not have to pay the penalty because its contract was entered into before the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which eliminated an exemption of civil penalties for nonprofits.
Battelle's exemption expires with its current contract on Sept. 30, 2008.
Last year, the Energy Department announced that it would put the lab contract out for bid for the first time in more than 40 years. The decision came after the laboratory was criticized for a high-profile research error involving cleanup of the highly contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation.
Battelle announced last month that it will again bid on the contract, partnering with the University of Washington, Washington State University, and Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Group Inc., an engineering company formerly known as BWXT Services Inc.
With an annual budget of more than $725 million, the laboratory's research areas include science and environment, energy, defense and national security. Since 1965, the laboratory has received a total of 1,466 U.S. and foreign patents. It employs about 4,300 people and has a payroll of $327 million.
Battelle also is a partner in operating Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the Idaho National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
[Download the Preliminary Notice of Violation here.]