Wash. Fines Energy Northwest $120K

The Washington state Department of Ecology fined Energy Northwest $120,000 for improperly handling chemical and hazardous waste at the state’s only nuclear power plant.Ecology and the federal Environmental Protection Agency conducted a six-week inspection at the Columbia Generating Station and an industrial development site operated by Energy Northwest, a public power consortium based in Richland.

Inspectors found industrial chemicals and hazardous wastes improperly labeled and stored, wastes left inside laboratory work stations, unreported spills of industrial chemicals, and chemical waste abandoned around both sites, Ecology said in a statement Thursday.

Energy Northwest had leased property to industrial clients at the industrial development site. Those companies performed commercial operations such as painting, metal recycling and heavy equipment storage.

None of the violations involved radioactive waste.

The state issued a $120,000 fine and administrative order to Energy Northwest for the nuclear plant violations, and a second administrative order for the industrial site. Both orders require the utility to correct all violations by the end of 2007.

“The unacceptable training of employees, the lack of reporting of spills of dangerous substances into the environment and the improper storage of waste escalated our concerns about lack of management and safety oversight at Energy Northwest,” said Jane Hedges, Ecology’s nuclear waste program manager.

However, the department said it was encouraged by Energy Northwest’s initial response and that it would continue to work closely with the utility to ensure that all violations are addressed.

“It’s clear that there are areas for us to improve our processes, and we think that’s appropriate and we appreciate them helping us identify those areas for improvement,” Energy Northwest spokesman Brad Peck said.

However, utility officials also think the dollar amount of the fine is uncharacteristically high and are considering whether to appeal, he said.

“It’s important for the public to understand that there’s nothing here that constitutes a direct threat to public health or safety,” Peck said. “It’s serious and not to be taken lightly, yes, but perhaps not the gravity that would fit with the language and the size of the penalty.”

Energy Northwest is a consortium of 20 public utilities and municipalities. In addition to the nuclear plant, the utility operates a hydropower project, as well as wind, solar and biomass power projects.

Energy Northwest also has proposed a 680-megawatt coal gasification plant to be built in Kalama, about 45 miles north of Portland, Ore. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is still conducting a review of the plant application.

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