Workers unknowingly exposed to plutonium

Xxxzx Xyyxyz musides at
Sun Aug 8 03:47:13 MDT 1999

Report: Workers unknowingly exposed
to plutonium contamination

August 8, 1999
Web posted at: 3:21 AM EDT (0721 GMT)

     WASHINGTON (AP) -- Thousands of uranium workers were unwittingly
exposed to plutonium and other highly radioactive metals over a
number of years at an Energy Department plant in Kentucky, The
Washington Post reported.

     Although similar nuclear contamination occurred at a number of
other sites around the country in the years before worker safety was
a top priority in U.S. industrial plants, the Post said in Sunday's
editions that one thing setting apart the case of the Paducah Gaseous
Diffusion Plant was that workers did not know they were handling

     Instead, they thought they were dealing only with uranium, which
is much less potent, the newspaper said.

     Unsuspecting workers inhaled the more dangerous radiation in the
form of plutonium-laced dust brought into the plant for 23 years,
beginning in the mid-1950s, as part of a government experiment to
recycle used nuclear reactor fuel.

     The government and its contractors did not inform workers about
the hazards for decades, even though employees in the 1980s began to
notice a series of cancers, the Post said.

     Citing its own investigation and sealed court documents, the Post
said radioactive contaminants from the plant spilled into ditches and
eventually seeped into creeks, a state-owned wildlife area and
private wells.

     Plant workers contended in court documents that radioactive waste
also was deliberately dumped into nearby fields, abandoned buildings
and a landfill not licensed for hazardous waste, according to the

     Jimmie Hodges, the Energy Department's site manager at Paducah,
said in a statement that an inspection of the site found that "there
are no imminent threats to the public health, worker safety or the
environment," but that the review is continuing.

     The Post said the Energy Department contends that worker exposure
was minimal and that contamination is being cleaned up. But it notes
that a lawsuit filed under seal in June by three current plant
employees alleges that radiation exposure was a problem at the
Paducah facility well into the 1990s.

     The Post said its investigation found that contractors hid facts
about plutonium contamination.

     It said the June suit was filed under a law that allows employees
to collect payment for exposing fraud against the government and has
been kept under seal to give the Justice Department time to decide
whether join the suit or to begin a criminal investigation.

     The report said none of the private companies named in the suit
has been served with it and would not comment.

     The Post noted that Paducah is just the latest DOE facility to be
hit by lawsuits and revelations of contamination. It said cleaning up
the Kentucky plant is expected to cost $240 billion and take at least
75 years.

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