Federal officials are conducting an investigation after plutonium escaped off the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state. The plutonium is left over from a Cold War era factory at Hanford where plutonium was processed from a liquid into a solid form for bombs.
The U.S. Department of Energy says all contaminated worker equipment has been traced and is not a danger to the public. The search began Monday and has spanned as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The plutonium problem is with air coolers about the size of a shoebox that are worn by Hanford workers to make their protective suits more comfortable. Twenty-one contaminated coolers were found, most at a Hanford fire station and two in the trunk of salesman’s car in Kennewick, Washington.
The areas have been screened for contamination and workers at these locations have been offered voluntary testing of their bodies.
Some other units had been shipped to factories in Cincinnati and then Pittsburgh for mechanical failures. None of those was found to have plutonium on them.
The plutonium contamination is from a massive building called the Plutonium Finishing Plant or “Z Plant” locally. Workers have been doing high-hazard jobs gutting the insides of the Cold War factory and demolishing parts of it over the last several years.