Thursday, November 10, 2011

Idaho National Lab Accident: Plutonium Cladding Went Bad

and plutonium oxidized, turning into power. The cladding was made of stainless steel.

One worker tested positive for americium-241 in the lungs, which is taken as a sure sign that he has inhaled plutonium.

From CBS News (11/10/2011):


Early Tuesday afternoon, workers wearing lab coats and gloves but not respiratory gear were recovering the fuel so it could be shipped to a U.S. Department of Energy facility in an undisclosed state. The lab originally reported it was bound for Nevada but later retracted the statement.

Lab officials suspect the stainless steel cladding that surrounded the plutonium was damaged years ago, beginning a slow-but-steady process of plutonium oxidation that led to the exposure. When workers opened an aluminum box that housed the fuel plates and cut away plastic wrapping, they noticed several grains of powder that escaped.

"At that point, the job was suspended. The personnel exited the area," said Phil Breidenbach, nuclear operations director of the Materials and Fuel Complex, where the accident occurred.

"However, as they were exiting, a constant air monitor went off, indicating contamination had gotten into the air," he said. "When they exited the area to their prearranged safe zone, they started surveying the individuals and found contamination."

..... (full article at the link)


Atomfritz said...

This appears to have been a civilian plutonium accident.

There are thousands of containers with military plutonium in metallic form (not PuO2).
Similiar accidents with military plutonium have happened regularly, but they are generally classified as military secrets.

Many people working in Hanford, Savannah, Rocky Flats etc in the 1940s to 1970s inhaled plutonium dust and died of lung cancer.
Compensatory claims always got rejected because the proof documents were not given to the courts because of "national security reasons".

The contaminated people probably will get some chelating "therapy" to calm their worries, but the efficiency is questionable, as this kind of "internal contamination" is not truly intestinal.

Let's hope they finally learn the lesson and stop handling plutonium carelessly without any protection, not even respiratory filtering, as it was common in the early nuclear age.

Cadisch said...

Interesting post.

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