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Dozens of workers demolishing a plutonium processing plant from the 1940s have inhaled or ingested radioactive particles in the past year, and even carried some of that radiation into their vehicles, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
“This is a very disturbing set of incidents,” said Tom Carpenter, head of the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge.
Radioactive particles are known to have contaminated 42 workers, which led to the shutdown of demolition, the agency has said.
Hanford officials issued a report in late March that said a total of 42 Hanford workers inhaled or ingested radioactive particles from demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant when they were exposed during contamination events in June and December of last year.
Radioactive contamination was also found outside plant offices and inside two dozen vehicles, the report said.
In addition, the state Health Department found very small amounts of airborne radioactive contamination near Highway 240 in the past year that could have come from the plant demolition 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.
Carpenter expected there would be more incidents of radiation escaping into the environment.
“However, we are concerned if work resumes without better controls, a risk to the public may develop,” the agency said in a recent letter to Hanford managers.