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Friday December 8 10:42 AM ET Colo. Nuclear Workers Contaminated

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) - Ten workers cleaning a former nuclear weapons factory tested positive for radiation exposure, and part of the project was halted as investigators searched for the source.

Fifteen new areas of plutonium were found at the Rocky Flats site, but they weren't believed responsible for the exposure.

``Most areas are where people are not normally working,'' said Mark Spears, director of safety for cleanup contractor Kaiser-Hill.

The exposed workers were cleaning one of the factory's most contaminated buildings as part of an 11-year, $7 billion project aimed at turning the site into a wildlife preserve.

Exact levels of contamination are not expected to be available until later this month, but investigators said they believe radiation exposure was less than 1,000 millirems, well below the federal standard of 5,000 for plant workers. In Colorado, people are exposed to 400 millirems of background radiation each year.

Employees were tested for exposure after a routine building inspection in October found a radiation detector was operating improperly. The building was shut down Dec. 1, and the U.S. Energy Department and Kaiser-Hill were investigating.

Plant and union officials announced Monday that the 10 workers had tested positive. Contamination tests were available for any worker who wanted one.

Officials said Tuesday they were not sure when the building cleanup would resume.

In a memo to Kaiser-Hill last month, the Energy Department's site manager said improvements were needed to identify hazards and establish controls.

-- Rachel Gibson (, December 08, 2000

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