Uncle Sam, meet Uncle Sam.

The Energy Department is being fined $20,000 a week by the Environmental Protection Agency in a dispute over waste cleanup and environmental restoration at the department's uranium processing plant in Fernald, Ohio. First levied in November, the fines now add up to more than $260,000.

Catherine McCord, Chicago-based EPA project manager for the Fernald cleanup, said she imposed the fines because the Energy Department missed deadlines and failed to supply information required by its cleanup agreement.

Normally, she said, one federal agency cannot sue or fine another. But "we put this in" the cleanup agreement that Energy and EPA signed last year, she said. "Our agreement with DOE allows us to do it."

"We don't believe these fines are justified," said Leo Duffy, director of Energy's multibillion-dollar effort to clean up the environmental damage caused by leaking radioactive and hazardous wastes at its nuclear weapons manufacturing plants.

"We don't have a fines and penalties fund," Duffy said, so the money has to come out of funds that otherwise would be spent on the cleanup program. His department is depositing the fine money in an escrow account, Duffy said, and will attempt to have the fines canceled at a meeting Friday with EPA officials.

If that effort fails, he said, "it will probably have to go to {EPA Administrator William K.} Reilly" for resolution.

The Fernald facility, near Cincinnati, is known as the Feed Materials Production Center. It formerly processed uranium metal for the Energy Department's bomb-building complex, but production has ended and Fernald's only mission now is to clean up after itself, according to Energy Secretary James D. Watkins.

While it was operating, Fernald discharged uranium, radon, cesium, cyanide, PCBs and other toxic substances into the air, soil and nearby ground water.

McCord said she first fined the Energy Department for failing to carry out a provision of the cleanup agreement requiring notification to the Justice Department if property owners refused to allow cleanup teams access to potentially contaminated sites. She said she imposed additional fines because Energy failed to supply data required by federal environmental laws.