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(Excerpt) Living in fear – Family faces uncertainty after plutonium exposure


Printed on: August 11, 2013

By ALEX STUCKEY – Post Register

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Even after 23 years together, Ralph Stanton called his wife, Jodi, at lunch every workday to talk.

On Nov. 8, 2011, that call never came. Nearly two years later, they say that day’s uncertainty has become part of their everyday lives.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock: Jodi watched the clock, trying to stifle the panic spreading through her body. She hoped her husband was OK.

He wasn’t.

The accident occurred about an hour before Ralph would have phoned his wife and best friend.

Ralph and his co-workers were removing boxes containing plutonium fuel plates from a vault at the building that once housed the Zero Power Physics Reactor on the Department of Energy’s desert site. They came across two boxes, called clamshells, atypically labeled with warnings about radioactive contents and abnormalities in the fuel plates’ conditions. After conferring with a supervisor, they were given the go-ahead to proceed.

Standing over a confinement hood wearing only gloves for protection, Ralph cut through the plastic.

Black powder spilled out. It was plutonium.

Ralph was one of 16 workers exposed to plutonium that day.

At that moment, he didn’t realize how bad the exposure was.

Sitting at her computer at CH2M-WG Idaho LLC’s Radioactive Waste Management Complex on the site, Jodi nervously answered the buzzing of an unknown caller.

It was 4 p.m. The call she was waiting for had come — but it wasn’t what she hoped for: “Jodi … I’ve been involved in an (accident) at work … I’ll let you know when I can talk later.”

Jodi crumpled. Her head and heart pounding, tears welling in her eyes, she rushed to the medical building on site.

She couldn’t see him.

In fact, she wouldn’t see him for another eight hours, until he walked through the door of their home at midnight.

“I grabbed him and hugged him,” Jodi said. “I was just so grateful he was still … alive.”

Soon, she would learn that decisions made by the lab not only put her husband in danger, but she believes the rest of her family as well.

And nearly two years later, Jodi’s green eyes remain bloodshot with worry as she braces herself for the mental and physical effects the exposure will have on her family.

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