Saturday, March 18, 2006
The Energy Department routinely issues substantial fines it isn't even allowed to collect.
Federal law exempts the national nuclear laboratories from most financial liability, but the Energy Department has issued some $2.5 million in fines against Los Alamos, Livermore and Argonne national laboratories since 2000. The fines - issued and waived in the same sentence - involved 31 different workers who inhaled or touched radioactive or toxic materials.
In 2004, Energy's National Nuclear Safety Department fined Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico $770,000 for five separate violations after two workers were exposed to dangerously high levels of plutonium. The violation notices add in parentheses: "Waived by Statute."
"This is kind of an exercise in absurdity," said Greg Mello, who heads the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear disarmament activist organization in Albuquerque.
Even so, the Energy Department includes the fines in its annual reports to Congress and often announces them in press releases.
Last year, Congress tightened the rules so that as nuclear laboratory contracts are renewed, the fine waivers are eliminated. Eventually, said DOE spokesman Jeff Sherwood, nuclear labs will have to pay imposed fines.
The reason DOE issued fines it could not collect was to show what the problems were and how bad, he said: "A $1 million fine says something different than a $10,000 fine."[...]
But...these fines would come out of fees. And (according to the rules) not just by fee reduction. That could be done, too.
Perhaps LANS will be more motivated to avoid PAAA violations than UC was.