DSST Business Ethics Study Guide sm

Silkwoods job was making plutonium pellets for

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Silkwood's job was making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. She died under mysterious circumstances after investigating claims of irregularities and wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plant. After being hired at Kerr-McGee, Silkwood joined the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union local and took part in a strike at the plant. After the strike ended, she was elected to the union's bargaining committee and assigned to investigate health and safety issues. She discovered what she believed to be numerous violations of health regulations, including exposure of workers to contamination, faulty respiratory equipment and improper storage of samples. She also believed the lack of sufficient shower facilities could increase the risk of employee contamination. [4]:19-23 In the summer of 1974, Silkwood testified to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) about these issues, alleging that safety standards had slipped because of a production speedup which resulted in employees being given tasks for which they were poorly trained. She also alleged that Kerr-McGee employees handled the fuel rods improperly and that the company falsified inspection records. [4]:22-23
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On November 5, 1974, Silkwood performed a routine self-check and found almost 400 times the legal limit for plutonium contamination. She was decontaminated at the plant and sent home with a testing kit to collect urine and feces for further analysis. Oddly, though there was plutonium on the exterior surfaces (the ones she touched) of the gloves she had been using, the gloves did not have any holes. This suggests the contamination did not come from inside the glovebox, but from some other source. [5] The next morning, as she headed to a union negotiation meeting, she again tested positive for plutonium. This was surprising because she had only performed paperwork duties that morning. She was given a more intense decontamination. The following day, November 7, 1974, as she entered the plant, she was found to be dangerously contaminated — even expelling contaminated air from her lungs. A health physics team accompanied her back to her home and found plutonium traces on several surfaces — especially in the bathroom and the refrigerator. The house was later stripped and decontaminated. Silkwood, her partner and housemate were sent to Los Alamos National Laboratory for in-depth testing to determine the extent of the contamination in their bodies. [6] Debate has centered over how Silkwood became contaminated over this 3-day period. Silkwood herself asserted that she was the victim of a malicious campaign, and that the testing jars she had been given were laced with plutonium. The contamination in the bathroom would have occurred when she spilled her urine sample on the morning of November 7. It was also consistent with the fact that samples she took at home had extremely high levels of contamination, whilst samples taken in 'fresh' jars at the plant and at Los Alamos showed much lower contamination.
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