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Atomic Waste Site Contractor Received Large Bonus Days After Leak

Workers remove loose salt in a tunnel at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The atomic repository's contract operator received a cash bonus for "excellent" work several days after a February radiation leak brought site operations to a halt. Workers remove loose salt in a tunnel at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The atomic repository's contract operator received a cash bonus for "excellent" work several days after a February radiation leak brought site operations to a halt. (U.S. Energy Department photo)

The private operator of a federal nuclear waste dump received a large bonus for "excellent" work several days after a radiation leak shut down the site.

The $1.9 million bonus that the Energy Department awarded to contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership five days after a radiation leak occurred at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is looking increasingly ill-advised, the Albuquerque Journal reported on Sunday.

It is not yet apparent why Energy officials decided to go forward with handing out the bonus or what, if any, consequences will fall on the U.S. officials tasked with oversight of the underground atomic waste site, located near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The nuclear dump remains closed months after the February leak incident, which contaminated over 20 personnel.

Investigations into what caused the leak have revealed a number of operational lapses by Nuclear Waste Partnership, including a multitude of maintenance problems and a build-up in diesel engine fuel in a truck that caught fire on Feb. 5, days before the Feb. 14 radiation leak.

In June, the Energy Department said it would reduce by $2 million the amount that Nuclear Waste Partnership is eligible to receive in fiscal 2014 out of a total $8.2 million management fee as punishment for the fire. However, the company can win back half of that $2 million if it takes corrective measures.

"They've always gotten their full bonus," said John Heaton, who leads the Carlsbad mayor’s Nuclear Task Force. "The main focus of that bonus was getting waste into the facility and, in my opinion, there was very little emphasis on safety or training."

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