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Is worker safety at U.S. nuclear sites passed over for profits?

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) recently obtained Energy Department documents regarding our country's eight plants and labs for nuclear weapons and two support sites. The CPI found that even though there had been numerous worker injuries, the corporations that manage these plants, labs and support sites often do not face significant penalties when there is an accident. Here are some examples:

-- August 2011, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories: An explosion at this facility knocked a worker to the ground and almost killed another worker when flying debris almost struck the worker. A penalty of $412,500 was waived.

-- 2013, 30 miles east of San Francisco, California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: One worker was exposed to a mist of sulfuric acid and two more were seriously burned when the acid sprayed into the area the workers were in. The contractor faced four Severity Level 1 violations and two Severity Level II violations. No fines were given, though, because the contractor had already had its profits docked that year.

-- 2013, Sandia: A worker had his hand injured when there was an unexpected ignition of a detonator. No fines were imposed because the Energy Department kept $686,000 of the contractor's profits for the incident and other issues.

-- 2015, 50 miles northeast of Albuquerque, Los Alamos National Laboratory: A worker was burned over 30 percent of his body when there was an electrical explosion.

There have been many safety issues identified at these and other sites by the Energy Department. The National Nuclear Security Administration's top safety official did not disagree with CPI's findings that serious accidents have been on the rise since 2013.

Many of the injured workers -- who are not identified -- have sued the contractors due to the lapses in safety that lead to their injuries. These cases are often settled in exchange for the worker's confidentiality. The CPI attempted to interview those they could identify, but many said no.

Ensuring a worker is compensated when he or she is injured at work can be crucial to a worker's financial stability. However, when safety issues are identified, but there are no repercussions for those issues, additional workers can be injured or killed. Those who are injured or who have lost a loved one because a contractor did not correct safety concerns can be held responsible for a wide range of damages. An attorney can provide more information.

Source: USA Today, "These workers’ lives are endangered while contractors running nuclear weapons plants make millions," Peter Cary, Patrick Malone and R. Jeffrey Smith, June 26, 2017

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