ST. LOUIS - Low-Level Uranium Escaped into Plant, U.S. Inspectors Say : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Posted: Friday, March 17, 2000 | 7:23 a.m. Low-level uranium escaped into plant, U.S. inspectors say

By Adam Goodman Of The Post-Dispatch

Federal inspectors have found that low-level radioactive uranium has escaped into employee changing rooms, offices, a lunchroom and other areas at a nuclear fuel plant in Jefferson County.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said some employees at the ABB Combustion Engineering plant in Hematite were not following proper radioactive monitoring and cleansing procedures when they walked out of radioactive areas. The workers carried radioactive material on their hands, clothes and shoes to other parts of the facility, according to the report of the inspection done Feb. 7-11.

The commission made the report public earlier this week.

The plant, about 35 miles south of St. Louis, makes ceramic fuel pellets and assembles fuel rods used in nuclear reactors. It employs about 180 people.

The commission cited the company for violating safety requirements but is not seeking fines, said agency spokesman Jan Strasma.

"There had not been a major contamination problem," Strasma said.

Inspectors witnessed two employees leaving radioactive areas without conducting any required self-check for contamination and other employees conducting such checks improperly. The inspectors said the company had reduced how often it checked employees for uranium contamination as well.

During the inspection, three of 29 employees in the plant's lunchroom were found to have hands contaminated with uranium. After the employees washed their hands, the contamination was gone.

Federal safety regulations require employees who work with radioactive materials to check themselves for contamination before they leave a radioactive area. The regulations also require employees to wash their hands.

Inspectors found elevated levels of uranium contamination in the shoe holders employees use in the changing room.

Inspectors criticized the company's placement of its monitoring equipment next to the exit doors of the changing rooms. "This arrangement allowed plant staff to spread contamination," the report said.

Karen Armour, a spokeswoman for ABB, said the company will send an official response to the federal agency later this month.

But she said ABB plans to:

Increase surveillance of employees leaving manufacturing lines.

Add to the number of hand-held devices employees use to monitor themselves for radioactive contamination.

Provide additional training for workers.

Do more spot checks throughout the plant.

Union workers at the Hematite plant struck the plant for seven weeks late last year before reaching three-year contracts.

-- (, March 17, 2000

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