Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation Hearing - Low-Level Plutonium Spill at NIST Boulder; Contamination of Lab and Personnel
Dr. James Turner
Acting Director, National Institue of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Dr. Charles Miller
Director, Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Dr. Kenneth Rogers
Independent Investigator appointed by NIST; Former Commissioner, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Mr. Elmo Collins
Regional Administrator, Region IV Office, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
DR. GINGREY STATEMENT ON PLUTONIUM ACCIDENT AT NIST, BOULDER
Washington, D.C. - July 15, 2008 – Today, the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing to look into the causes, and subsequent handling of an accident involving a low-level plutonium spill at a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) facility in Boulder, CO.
On June 9, 2008, researchers working at the NIST facility were working with a small sample of plutonium, when some of the sample spilled from its container and contaminated the lab and personnel. Contamination spread to other areas of the building, and a small amount of the material was washed away in the lab sink.
Subcommittee Ranking Member, Dr. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), made the following statement at today’s hearing:
“First and foremost, I am very thankful that those in proximity of the spill have thus far shown no adverse side effects from their exposure to plutonium. That is not to say, however, that the sample containing 250 milligrams of various plutonium isotopes posed no health or safety risks when it was mishandled.
“I do applaud Dr. Turner for recognizing the gravity of the problem at NIST, and I am cautiously optimistic that employees throughout the agency will also heed this wake-up call. However, this incident makes clear that simply having safety policies on paper does not ensure that they will be adequately executed. I hope Dr. Turner recognizes that a fix will not come through onerous safety directives from top level officials. Rather, change must involve every employee or visiting affiliate at NIST adhering to documented safety procedures so that an incident like this does not occur again.”
Members heard from the following witnesses at today’s hearing:
o Dr. James Turner, Acting Director, NIST;
o Dr. Charles Miller, Director, Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission;
o Dr. Kenneth Rogers, Former Commissioner, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and
o Dr. Elmo Collins, Regional Administrator, Region IV Office, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission