DOE to Investigate Accident at Los Alamos

Eight workers were exposed to plutonium-238 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

An independent "Type A" accident investigation the highest level safety investigation the Department of Energy (DOE) conducts will be undertaken to examine how eight workers were exposed to plutonium-238 at the DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory on Thursday.

"The safety and health of all our workers at all our sites is important," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said. "When an accident like this happens, we must learn from it and do everything possible to prevent similar accidents from happening again."

The accident occurred in the Plutonium Processing and Handling Facility TA-55. Whole body surveys were performed immediately on the eight workers. Subsequent nasal smears indicated that four of the eight had potentially inhaled plutonium-238. They are undergoing treatment to remove the plutonium from their bodies.

A team of investigators from DOE headquarters arrived Monday at Los Alamos to review the facts, circumstances and root causes of the accident. Team members' areas of expertise covers the entire scope of the investigation, including radiation protection, nuclear facility safety and conduct of operations.

After the investigation, the team will deliver its report to Richardson. The process is expected to take six to eight weeks.

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