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US to pay Nevada $65K in settlement over radioactive waste

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to pay Nevada $65,000 after the government mislabeled and mischaracterized low-level radioactive waste that was shipped to a disposal site north of Las Vegas for more than five years.

The settlement agreement announced Thursday certifies that multiple changes have been made to prevent unapproved waste from being shipped and disposed of at the Nevada National Security Site in the future, state and federal officials said.

It also establishes an additional groundwater monitoring well at the site.

The Energy Department has said none of the materials shipped to Nevada posed any health or safety threats to workers or the public. They were mischaracterized as the wrong category of low-level waste and should have been classified as low-level mixed waste, the state’s review determined.

Low-level waste can include equipment or worker’s clothing contaminated by exposure to radiation, while mixed low-level waste can include toxic metals.

Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry notified Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak in July 2019 that 33 packages of unapproved waste were sent in 10 shipments between 2013 and 2018 to the site from the Energy Department’s Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

His predecessor also ordered an immediate department-wide assessment of its procedures and practices for packaging and shipping classified, radioactive waste.

The waste was unrelated to shipments of weapons-grade plutonium the Energy Department secretly trucked to the same site in 2018. That was part of a 2-year-long federal court battle that resulted in a separate settlement agreement last summer.

Greg Lovato, administrator of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, said the new settlement was the result of a collaborative effort between state and federal regulators to enhance the Department of Energy’s waste management program and allow the state agency to closely monitor those efforts.

“Although DOE’s unapproved waste disposal was an unfortunate misstep, we are thankful that this experience has helped lead the way to significant improvements that will further protect public health and the natural environmental for generals to come,” Lovato said in a statement.

His division’s review found the Energy Department failed to comply with provisions of a solid waste permit granted by state regulators.

The Energy Department said in a statement the agreement builds on the agency’s commitment to enhance waste management activities while protecting its workforce, the public and the environment.

The earlier dispute involved the clandestine shipment of one-half metric ton (1,100 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium from a Department of Energy facility in South Carolina to Nevada. Under that settlement, the government agreed to start removing the waste from the Nevada site this year.

Scott Sonner, The Associated Press