Many New Jersey residents know the role that the Los Alamos National Laboratory had in the development of nuclear weapons, and they may be surprised to learn that the Department of Energy facility has been accused of handling radioactive waste and plutonium carelessly. According to the Center for Public Integrity, little has been done since worries over safety prompted officials to suspend work at the laboratory in 2013.
The nonprofit journalism group cites a particularly disturbing incident that took place in 2011. According to the CPI, organic cheesecloth was used to mop up spilled liquid plutonium. The contaminated cheesecloth was then placed in bins containing other types of nuclear material. Federal regulations forbid this practice because chemical reactions can cause fires when cheesecloth comes into contact with plutonium. Questions were also raised about safety protocols at Los Alamos during a May public hearing when it was learned that the facility’s fire suppression systems have not been updated in decades.
Even more disturbing are claims that plutonium rods were arranged for a photograph in a way that could have triggered a chain reaction. Officials at the facility, which manufactures plutonium cores for nuclear weapons, denied the CPI allegations in a memo released by the Associated Press on June 19. The memo states that the facility has withstood the scrutiny of more than a dozen independent reviews in recent years.
When workers are injured in job-related accidents, they generally file claims for workers’ compensation benefits. However, attorneys with experience in this type of case may suggest that they pursue personal injury lawsuits instead when their employers have acted with gross negligence. While workers’ compensation benefits may cover lost wages and the costs of medical treatment, punitive damages could be awarded in lawsuits involving employers who acted so recklessly that accidents and injuries became inevitable.