Thursday, February 16, 2006

NNSA Defends Decision on Worker Exposure

By John Arnold
Journal Staff Writer
A National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman on Wednesday defended his office's decision not to conduct a radiological survey at a Kansas hotel room, where a Los Alamos National Laboratory employee had unknowingly carried radioactive americium contamination last year.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy investigation report, NNSA's Los Alamos office and a radiological response team reasoned that any contamination levels in the room would be too low to present a health risk and that a survey "was likely to attract public and media interest."
"They were afraid that if they get these people going in (to the hotel) with suits and stuff, that it might freak people out," spokesman NNSA spokesman Bernie Pleau said in a phone interview. "We didn't want to cause a panic."

In July 2005, a LANL researcher was accidentally exposed to americium while working in the lab's Sigma facility, and he unknowingly spread low levels of contamination to his White Rock home and to Great Bend, Kan., where he and his wife traveled to visit a relative.

Radiological response teams eventually did survey and find traces of radioactive americium-241 in the hotel room where the worker and his wife stayed.

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