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Atomic Cats Get Nuclear Families

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Atomic Cats of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Neutron, are going home today.

More than two years after the litter of black cats was born with radiation contamination at the plant, they are going to live with two plant employees.

The kittens were found near a defunct nuclear unit in January 1996. When their mother could not be found, employees tried to carry them off the grounds, triggering the plant’s nuclear-contamination-detecting alarms. It was soon discovered that the kittens had high levels of cesium and cobalt.

They were returned to the plant, where they became the darlings of the Southern California Edison Co. workers.

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“They are like model employees,” said manager Mary Jane Johnson. “They live on-site, they work for food and they never ask for raises.”

The Atomic Cats also became instant celebrities.

After their discovery, the media flocked to the plant, including the BBC in London and Nuclear News, a trade publication.

Since then, the cats have been decontaminated through frequent baths with mild soap and water.

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Ray Golden, a spokesman for the plant, said that Edison officials recently decided it was best for the cats to live in “real homes” instead of the warehouse on the nuclear plant site.

When the company invited employees to adopt the cats, 12 people submitted applications and went through a screening process, Golden said.

A three-member committee decided that Alpha and Beta, the two males, will go home with civil engineer Pauline Alten. Technical specialist Ken Sheeks will adopt Gamma and Neutron, both females.

Johnson said many Edison employees who helped care for the cats will be saddened by their departure.

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“Some tears will be shed,” Johnson said.


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