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Report: Idaho Plutonium Exposure Was 'Preventable'

This photo shows a clamshell fuel storage container similar to the one involved in the exposure. Photo courtesy of INL
This photo shows a clamshell fuel storage container similar to the one involved in the exposure. Photo courtesy of INL
The Test Reactor Area west of Idaho Falls is home to the Advanced Test Reactor. Photo courtesy of INL
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The Test Reactor Area west of Idaho Falls is home to the Advanced Test Reactor. Photo courtesy of INL

Federal investigators say an accident that exposed 16 people to radiation at the Idaho National Lab was "preventable." A report out Wednesday says the Department of Energy and one of its contractors underestimated the risk of opening decades-old packages that hold plutonium plates.

The 16 workers were preparing 1980s-era containers of plutonium to be moved out of an old research facility. Two containers had "atypical labels," so the workers contacted their supervisors. According to the federal report, they were directed to cut the plastic around the plutonium anyway.

All 16 workers were exposed. Two even inhaled plutonium particles. Investigators found that historical procedures for handling the fuel plates were apparently lost, and they say a 2009 white paper that predicted such an accident went unheeded at the Lab.

Idaho National Lab spokesman Ethan Huffman says managers did take corrective action back in 2009, but "In hindsight, you know, there was probably more that we should have done."

Huffman says all the workers have returned to the Lab and their health continues to be monitored. The federal report calls on the Idaho National Lab to make an in-depth review of its safety plans.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

On the Web:

Accident Investigation Report

http://www.hss.doe.gov/sesa/corporatesafety/aip/docs/accidents/typea/INL_AI_Report_11-08-2011.pdf

Idaho National Laboratory

https://inlportal.inl.gov/portal/server.pt/community/home/255

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.