Initial testing shows that four workers at a uranium processing plant have been contaminated with radioactive plutonium, plant officials said Friday.
Further tests will be conducted to try to determine the amount of contamination and the degree of seriousness.Although plutonium contamination can lead to serious illnesses or even death, plant officials say they believe the amount of contamination is "extremely low."
The workers are employed at a Department of Energy plant, operated under contract by Westinghouse, in the southwest Ohio community of Fernald. Uranium processed at the plant is used in nuclear weapons.
Plutonium contamination is considered more dangerous than uranium contamination."Plutonium is of a greater concern because its half-life (radiation life) is longer than uranium," said spokesman Pete Kelley.
"It's scary," said Tom Holtzclaw, one of the four contaminated workers. "Naturally, I'm worried.
"We're aware that there will be some external exposure that you take precautions for," he said. "I've got no problems with that. But I don't think any of us had any idea that we would actually ingest plutonium.
"All I've heard is that the company says it's an insignificant amount and not to worry about it. But, I've also heard that exposure can cause leukemia, esophagus cancer and lung cancer."
Kelley said the four workers apparently were contaminated sometime last year in connection with processing plutonium-laced residue and subsequent cleanup operations.