Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2018
A worker was exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation after an accident on June 5 at a Department of Energy facility in Idaho—the Radioactive Waste Management Complex, which is run by Fluor Idaho, a DOE contractor—where there have been multiple accidents in recent years.
The facility is part of the Department of Energy’s 890-square-mile “Idaho site,” which includes the Idaho National Laboratory, used by the federal government for radioactive waste disposal since the 1950s. In recent years, it has been the focus of concerns from state officials and watchdog groups who are alarmed at the volume of radioactive material being held there.
Erik Simpson, a spokesperson for Fluor Idaho, told Yahoo News that the company is conducting an “investigation of the event” and that “the worker was reaching across the glove box tray, the worker felt a prick in the forearm. The employee immediately stopped work and discovered a puncture wound had penetrated the PPE,” Simpson said, referring to “personnel protective equipment.”
Simpson, who did not name the worker, said “medical attention was provided” and “the employee was released back to work and will continue to be monitored.”
According to a friend, the accident occurred when a “piece of metal cut through” the worker’s hazardous materials suit and lab coat. The friend described the incident as a “freak event” and said the worker underwent surgery on her forearm, which was the “penetration site.” The worker also was treated with chelation therapy to “flush her of plutonium and americium,” her friend said. Chelation is a medical procedure that removes toxic metals from the body.
This accident comes on the heels of a situation in the complex in April, when four barrels containing radioactive sludge ruptured. [See “Rad Waste’s ‘Gaseous Ignition,’” in Summer Nukewatch Quarterly.]
According to the Associated Press, the DOE has missed multiple deadlines to move waste out of Idaho and has paid approximately $3.5 million in fines.
In 2011, there was a high-profile incident at the Idaho National Laboratory where 16 employees were exposed to plutonium dust. The Center for Public Integrity found that the 2011 incident came after warnings from staffers about dangerous conditions at the facility. The CPI also found that the 2011 incident “was preceded by two other serious instances of radioactive contamination at the lab … and that it was also followed by two additional, avoidable radioactive contaminations there.”
Despite these issues, the DOE is planning to ship 7,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste from a site in Washington to the Idaho National Lab. Local politicians and the Snake River Alliance are fighting that plan.
Snake River Alliance Nuclear Program Director Beatrice Brailsford told Yahoo News, “We’ll always have nuclear waste. That’s already happened. But we should not be compounding the problem.”
—This is an edited version of a June 16, 2018 article by Hunter Walker for Yahoo News.