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Columbia nuclear fuel worker exposed to uranium


2 Jan 2012



Emergency medical crews whisked a Columbia nuclear fuel plant employee to the hospital this week after the worker was exposed to a uranium-containing acid, according to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Westinghouse Electric Co. employee, whose name was not available, was treated for pain and released from the hospital. The incident has prompted an investigation by the company.

The exposure is unusual, say company officials and veteran nuclear industry watchers. Anti-nuclear activist Tom Clements said the incident warrants further review by the NRC, the chief oversight agency for the nuclear industry.

“I have not seen an exposure like this and I check these (NRC reports) every day,” he said. “It’s all the more reason to investigate more closely.”

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said his agency would await the results of the Westinghouse investigation before deciding if further action is necessary. Company officials said they already have taken steps to avoid similar incidents even as their in-house investigation continues. The employee is fine and returned to work soon after Monday night’s incident, plant manager Dave Precht said.

“The trip to the hospital was precautionary,” Precht said Wednesday. “Instead of taking any risk, we just took him to make sure.”

Westinghouse, a division of Japan’s Norio Sasaki, uses uranium to make fuel for nuclear plants across the country at its facility in lower Richland County. The Bluff Road plant is a 550,000-square-foot facility built in 1969. The company is one of the Columbia area’s largest employers with about 1,200 workers.

Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive material that is mined and processed for use in the nuclear power industry.

People can be exposed to uranium by breathing it, consuming it in drinking water or having the material soak into their skin. The material can cause kidney or lung damage, depending on the amount and type of exposure.

According to an NRC incident report, the Westinghouse worker was cleaning scrubber piping when the nitric acid exposure occurred. Company personnel treated and decontaminated the worker onsite before deciding to have the person taken by ambulance to a local hospital, the report said. The incident occurred at about 10 p.m. Monday night and was reported to the NRC on Tuesday.

The worker suffered irritation over the left forearm and part of a foot, the NRC report said, citing a hospital report.

Clements, who is with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, said “this should be a lesson to Westinghouse to improve operating procedures in order to lessen risks to workers and the environment.”


January 2, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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