In a staggering workplace accident that should make anyone shiver, 13 people who work at an underground nuclear waste dump have tested positive for radiation exposure. It is the first report of its kind for the facility since it began accepting plutonium-contaminated waste before the turn of the millennium.
It is unclear exactly how the radiation leak was caused. An investigation into the workplace accident has been launched, and in the meantime the U.S Department of Energy and the contractor in charge of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (or WIPP, where the incident occurred) are not saying anything. It is possible that a forklift punctured a container, leaking the dangerous substance. A roof collapse is another possibility. Another accident at the WIPP — where a truck carrying salt burst into flames — is apparently unrelated.
However, what we’re talking about here is a very serious type of workplace accident that even threatens the public. Radiation readings determined that the air around the plant was contaminated, but that the levels were too low to pose a threat.
With all of this in mind, people will start asking the complicated questions. How will the 13 poisoned employees be treated from here on out? What kind of benefits are they entitled to under workers’ compensation? What offenses, if any, will be the WIPP be charged with? Will they be subject to penalties or increased oversight? How will current employees take the news, and what assurances will be made to protect not only them, but the innocent people who are around this clearly dangerous facility?
Source: Associated Press, “13 exposed to radiation at U.S. plant,” Feb. 27, 2014