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U.S. cuts WIPP contractor performance pay

file photo

file photo

The federal government has refused more than $8 million in performance-based pay to the contractor running a southeastern New Mexico nuclear waste repository after a February radiation leak forced its closure — a nearly 100 percent cut.

Nuclear Waste Partnership earned just $21,576 in fiscal 2014 of the $6.1 million available in performance-based incentives and earned none of the $2 million available in award fees for running the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, according to a document posted to the WIPP website.

On Valentine’s Day, a hot reaction ruptured a drum of nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory that had been disposed of deep underground at WIPP. The repository, which had already been shuttered by an underground truck fire days earlier, was contaminated with americium and plutonium and has been struggling to recover.

Although investigators still are evaluating exactly what caused the drum to overheat and rupture, they know the Los Alamos drum was improperly packaged with a volatile mix of nitrate salts and organic kitty litter used to absorb liquids.

The federal government similarly docked the Los Alamos contractor’s performance incentives, paying out just $6.25 million of the more than $63 million available to Los Alamos National Security, had the contractor met its contract goals.

The management and operating budgets for WIPP and LANL are more than $140 million and nearly $2 billion, respectively.

NWP’s performance incentives are based on the amount of waste disposed annually, as well as improvements in infrastructure and efficiency, preventative maintenance and safety criteria. The award fees refer to mission and management performance, and cost control.

In reports on both the truck fire and radiation release, investigators reproached WIPP management for cultivating an inadequate safety culture and allowing maintenance failures.

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