WIPP radiation leak leads to layoffs at LANL

July 2, 2014

By Staci Matlock
Santa Fe The New Mexican

The Feb. 14 radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad has sparked layoffs by a Los Alamos National Laboratory contractor.
EnergySolutions, the private company hired to pack mixed radioactive waste for shipment from Los Alamos to Carlsbad, laid off 40 employees Monday, for a total of 83 layoffs since the end of March.

Of the 40 employees laid off Monday, 28 were local people and four had relocated to Northern New Mexico for the lab waste project. EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker wasn’t sure how many of the other people laid off earlier were local.

Lab officials said the layoff coincided with the June 30 expiration of the lab’s subcontract with EnergySolutions.

But a company spokesman said some of the layoffs were made because LANL needed to shift funding to pay for storage of waste containers at a Texas facility after the radiation leak closed WIPP and to pay for part of the ongoing investigation into the leak.

EnergySolutions, based in Salt Lake City, was hired to repackage and ship out 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste by June 30. Transuranic waste consists of contaminated laboratory equipment and clothing, along with some liquids, used during nuclear research over the last several decades.

All of the transuranic waste had been packaged and ready to ship by the end of March, according to Walker. A total of 34 EnergySolutions employees were laid off then to “meet LANL requirements,” according to a letter from company Vice President Miles Smith.

Then in February, a LANL waste container that had been packed by EnergySolutions cracked open at WIPP, releasing radiation into the underground facility. All transuranic waste shipments from the lab were halted.

EnergySolutions laid off 23 more employees June 2 and were scheduled to lay off 58 on June 30.

“This is being driven by the fact that $20M of LANL’s 2014 Environmental Management funding has been reallocated to pay for the WIPP incident Technical Assistance Team made up of national laboratory personnel from across DOE and for continued storage of 113 containers of waste at Waste Control Specialists [in Andrews, Texas],” Smith said in a letter to the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

Of the 58 employees scheduled for layoffs Monday, 14 were reassigned to jobs elsewhere in the company. EnergySolutions kept 18 on for other contracted waste projects at LANL. EnergySolutions will work as a subcontractor for Albuquerque-based Environmental Dimensions Inc., which has a five-year federal contract that began July 1 for radioactive waste retrieval and packaging at the lab, according to Walker.

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, a watchdog group, said LANL and the Department of Energy had other funds it could have tapped instead of using contract money for EnergySolutions. “It looks like Energy Solutions is being made to pay heavily for a mistake that was — at the very least — not entirely its own. Los Alamos National Security is the one ultimately to blame here.”

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or smatlock(at)sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @stacimatlock.

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