Richland firm fined $36,400 for radioactive waste storage

Hanford waste is prepared for shipment to Perma-Fix Northwest in Richland for treatment.
Hanford waste is prepared for shipment to Perma-Fix Northwest in Richland for treatment. Courtesy DOE

Perma-Fix Northwest has agreed to pay a fine of $36,400 after a state inspection found some radioactive and dangerous chemical waste that was not being stored correctly.

The waste was at a shredding unit that apparently had not been used since Perma-Fix bought the Richland plant used to treat and package radioactive waste, some of it from Hanford, in 2007.

Inspectors from the Washington State Department of Ecology spotted a drum, which was sitting on a concrete pad over a grate, holding some shredded material that looked like kitty litter. More of the material had dropped through the grate.

An analysis of the material, which weighed a total of 35 pounds, found that it was a mix of cadmium, which is considered a dangerous waste, and some radioactive substances, including cobalt, cesium and uranium.

Ecology issued a fine of $50,000 for not designating the waste, not inspecting the area where it was stored and improperly storing the waste.

“Under the terms of their operating permit, they had an obligation to inspect all areas of their operation and ensure that any dangerous, radioactive or mixed waste was identified and cleaned up,” Alex Smith, nuclear waste program manager for the Department of Ecology, said in a statement.

It was our mistake and we have fixed it.

Richard Grondin, Perma-Fix Northwest

“Had anything happened to disturb this material and make it airborne, it would have posed serious health risks to anyone who inhaled it,” she said. The waste contained potentially cancer-causing substances.

The waste was contained within a building so the public was not at risk, and no Perma-Fix employee was exposed to the material, said Richard Grondin, general manager of Perma-Fix Northwest. Because the equipment was not used by Perma-Fix, the area was rarely entered, he said.

But “it was our mistake and it is fixed,” he said. Corrective measures were initiated immediately.

The Department of Ecology reduced the penalty by a third when Perma-Fix Northwest entered into an expedited settlement agreement waiving its right to appeal. The Department of Ecology uses expedited settlements to save state taxpayers and companies like Perma-Fix the expense of litigation.

“They have done everything that we asked them to do to correct the violation,” said John Price, the Department of Ecology Tri-Party Agreement section manager. “They have worked really hard.”

The plant handles both low-level radioactive waste and low-level radioactive waste mixed with hazardous chemicals. Although the plant has had numerous inspections by state and federal teams since Perma-Fix bought the plant, the improperly handled waste at the shredder had not been noticed before.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews