Idaho National Lab workers exposed to plutonium

Nov 10, 2011

The Idaho National Lab is monitoring 16 of its workers who were exposed to Plutonium 239. That isotope is used in nuclear weapons.

The incident happened Tuesday afternoon when the workers were preparing the plutonium for shipment to another unnamed Department of Energy facility.

Plutonium 239 has a half-life of about 24,000 years and migrates to the bones if it’s ingested, inhaled or enters the body through a wound.

Sara Prentice is a spokeswoman with the Idaho National Lab in Idaho Falls. She says the workers have access to a treatment of calcium and zinc to aid in flushing the plutonium from their bodies.

“All 16 were offered it, only four chose to have it, and that was an educated decision they made on their own," Prentice says.

All of the workers were allowed to go home. But they will all be tested for several weeks. That’s how long it will take for the Idaho lab to know how high a dose each workers received.

The contaminated area of the lab has been isolated, until lab managers finalize a clean-up strategy.