The incident occurred during cleanup at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, which has been inactive for 25 years.
A worker at the shuttered Hanford nuclear-weapons plant was contaminated with plutonium earlier this month, triggering a federal investigation into the transportation of potentially contaminated ventilation devices through three states, the Los Angeles Times has learned.
The incident occurred during cleanup operations at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, a highly contaminated facility that has been inactive for 25 years at the Hanford site along the Columbia River.
Department of Energy officials say they do not believe any individuals, apart from the single contaminated worker, were exposed to plutonium, though an investigation into the incident is continuing.
The worker, an employee of CH2M Hill, was exposed when he removed his hazmat suit. A subsequent investigation found contamination on the ventilation unit’s hose.
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The worker had particles on his elbow, but apparently did not inhale the material. Inhalation of plutonium is among the most serious radiological exposures because the substance can become embedded in lung tissue and deliver a long-term dose of radiation.
The Hanford site operated a series of reactors that produced plutonium, which was then chemically refined and packaged at the finishing plant before being transported for fabrication into weapons parts in Colorado or New Mexico.