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Published: Friday, April 19, 2013, 3:51 p.m.

Workers exposed to plutonium blame National Lab

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -- Two Idaho National Laboratory workers who were exposed to plutonium contamination in 2011 are now accusing their employers of creating an unsafe work culture at the eastern Idaho research facility.
Ralph Stanton and Brian Simmons announced Thursday they have filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against Battelle Energy Alliance, the company contracted by the government to operate INL.
The two men claim their concerns about on-the-job safety were ignored and that an unsafe culture existed at the site before they and 16 other workers were exposed to plutonium in November 2011. They also allege retaliation after raising safety issues with administrators.
Their Seattle attorney went a step further, accusing BEA of putting profits before safety.
"It is not uncommon when a company has to pinch pennies and make their deadline so they get their bonuses to see this kind of behavior," attorney Jack Sheridan said during a press conference Thursday, according to a story published in the Post-Register.
Lab officials dispute the claims.
"(BEA) disagrees with the filed complaint, and we will be strongly defending," INL spokeswoman Misty Benjamin said in a statement.
Government officials have a year to investigate the case and report a resolution.
In the months leading up to the event, Simmons told his manager he did not appreciate being put in a compromising position on a daily basis, according to the complaint.
Twice in 2011, BEA allegedly refused to allow Stanton and Simmons to use lead shielding to protect themselves when handling plutonium. Both workers exercised their right to stop the jobs, according to the complaint.
In October, one month before the exposure accident, Stanton and Simmons say they were asked to falsify 25 Type 1 safety procedures on a job that was done the day before. Both refused.
On Nov. 8, 2011, Stanton, Simmons and other workers were exposed to plutonium radiation at the building that once housed the Zero Power Physics Reactor at the Materials and Fuels Complex.
In retaliation for the two workers' actions, the complaint alleges, BEA sent them to a psychologist for evaluation, gave them negative performance evaluations and withheld radiation dosage information.
The goal is for the company to change its processes, Sheridan said.
"Our goal is to have the company follow its own safety practices because they're dealing with some of the most dangerous substances on the planet," Sheridan said.
Story tags » Hazardous Materials

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