Nuclear Accident May Have Injured Workers' Kidneys

Associated Press

Two-thirds of the workers present at an Oklahoma uranium-processing plant during a January accident probably suffered kidney damage from inhaling uranium compounds, and doctors do not yet know if any will show permanent harm, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was told Thursday.

One worker was killed in the Jan. 4 accident at the Kerr-McGee Corp. subsidiary, Sequoyah Fuels Co., near Gore, Okla., from inhaling deadly hydrogen fluoride gas.

The gas was formed in the air after the rupture of a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride, the substance shipped to enrichment plants for transformation into reactor fuel.

65% Suffer Kidney Damage

Ed Shum, project leader for an inter-agency team looking into health effects from the accident, said that 65% of 42 workers tested probably suffered kidney damage. All are being checked regularly, he said.

"We do expect transient kidney damage on the basis of measured intake" of uranium compounds, said Richard Cunningham of the commission's Office of Nuclear Materials Safety during a briefing for the five commissioners.

The commissioners received a formal report from a special investigating team confirming that the cylinder ruptured because workers were heating it, in violation of company procedures, to make it easy to remove excess uranium hexafluoride.

The tank was supposed to contain 27,560 pounds of material but actually held about 31,000 pounds. The heat caused about 2,000 pounds of pressure in the tank, five times the maximum test pressure.

The plant cannot restart until the commission gives its approval.

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