No leak of radiation outside the facility, says the lab. Plutonium is from the spent fuel.
From Reuters (11/8/2011):
At least six workers were contaminated by low-level plutonium radiation and 11 others were exposed on Tuesday at a U.S. nuclear research lab in Idaho, but the public was not at risk, the government said.
The accident at the Idaho National Laboratory occurred inside a deactivated reactor housed in a facility used for remotely handling, processing and examining spent nuclear fuel, radioactive waste and other irradiated materials, the lab said in a series of statements.
The so-called Materials and Fuels Complex is located near the edge of the U.S. Energy Department's sprawling 890-square-mile laboratory site in the high desert in eastern Idaho about 38 miles from the city of Idaho Falls.
But lab bulletins on the mishap, believed to be the most serious accident at the site in at least four years, said there was no evidence of a release of radiation outside the facility, and "there is no risk to the public or environment."
A total of 17 technicians, all employees of lab contractor Battelle Energy Alliance, were working inside the decommissioned research reactor when "a container was opened for normal, scheduled work, resulting in low-level worker exposure to plutonium," the statements said.
There were no immediate details from the lab on the precise cause or nature of the radiation release, such as whether it resulted from an equipment malfunction or human error.
Lab spokesman Earl Johnson told Reuters the exposed workers were engaged in an activity and in an area that required no special protective shielding.
"We certainly didn't expect this to happen," he said, adding that radiation-control technicians monitoring the area detected the low-level release.
(The article continues.)