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“It was complete chaos” says Hanford worker who inhaled plutonium

The worker tested positive for inhalation of the potential lethal nuclear isotope of plutonium – a key ingredient to the production of nuclear bombs and warheads., KGW8 News: Susannah Frame, February 13, 2018  A Hanford worker directly impacted by safety failures at an extremely dangerous demolition project at the site has granted an interview to KING 5.

The worker tested positive for inhalation of the potential lethal nuclear isotope of plutonium – a key ingredient to the production of nuclear bombs and warheads.

“I’m pissed. I’m scared, like we all are, that sooner or later it’s going to bite me and I’m going to end up with cancer,” said the contaminated worker.

For fear of retaliation, the worker does not want to be identified. Eight months ago, on June 8, the person was one of hundreds working on the demolition of Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP). The workers were told to ‘take cover’ as a ‘precaution’ because monitors detected radioactive plutonium particles could be in the air.

But the event ended up not being precautionary whatsoever. The contractor in charge of the demolition, CH2M Hill, had an enormous problem on its hands.

“It was complete chaos. It was a mess,” said the worker.

Indeed, radioactive particles had escaped and spread outside the demolition zone. Hundreds of workers were eventually tested. Thirty-one of them got bad news: They had inhaled or ingested plutonium, which emits alpha radiation, the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body.

“Plutonium will go to the bones and sit there for a long, long time,” said Dr. Erica Liebelt, a toxicologist and executive director, as well as medical director, of the Washington Poison Center.

“Your risks are lung cancer, liver cancer, and bone cancer. That’s where plutonium heads in the body.”  “(After being told no one was hurt) I was angry. You carry that with you for the rest of your life. It’s a cancer causer,” said the worker interviewed by KING 5.

The PFP is where, for decades, the Hanford workforce produced plutonium buttons, a key component of building nuclear warheads throughout the Cold War. The buildings left behind were the most lethally radioactive structures on the entire 586-square-mile Hanford reservation.

After that event in June CH2M Hill increased safeguards and promised to do better. But six months later the job got out of control again. More plutonium began escaping outside the demolition control zone on December 15. Instead of getting to the bottom of it right away, CH2M Hill waited two days to halt the job.

Radioactive particles ended up on all kinds of items including worker’s boots, office trailers, jersey barriers, tumbleweeds.

And elevated airborne levels of plutonium were recorded at an employee exit right next to a public highway.

“The response was awful. To me (waiting was) unforgivable, inexcusable. That should never have happened and this contractor ought to be on the hot seat,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of the advocacy group Hanford Challenge.

The plutonium spread also made it onto cars. The KING 5 Investigators have found 36 cars total. Seven of them were personal vehicles, driven off the site by unsuspecting employees. The vehicles, with contamination on them, were driven into town and to their homes. One of those cars belongs to the worker who was contaminated internally six months earlier. …..

Once you have contamination that gets on private party’s cars and then gets driven off the Hanford Site it’s a big concern for us,” said Alex Smith of the Washington state Department of Ecology. Smith is the state’s top-ranking regulator for the state over Hanford.

On January 9, the Department of Ecology and the EPA sent a joint letter to U.S Department of Energy officials to communicate their great concern. For the first time in Hanford’s history, the regulators enacted a provision allowing them to halt work on a project due to a “creation of danger” to people and the environment.

The two regulatory agencies said the project demonstrated so much risk that they were shutting it down until the federal government could prove they could proceed safely…….


February 14, 2018 - Posted by | health, PERSONAL STORIES, USA

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