Workers Demand Nuke Plant Accident Video
BOISE, Idaho (CN) - The Department of Energy offered shifting, bogus excuses for refusing to provide a video of an accident in a nuclear plant that exposed workers to radioactive plutonium, two workers claim in court.
Brian Simmons and Ralph Stanton sued the Department of Energy in Federal Court.
The complaint states: "On November 8, 2011, workers at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC) Zero Power Physics Reactor (ZPPR) Facility, were packaging plutonium (Pu) reactor fuel plates. Two of the fuel storage containers had unusual labels indicating potential abnormalities with the fuel plates located inside. When INL workers opened one of the storage containers, they discovered a plutonium fuel plate wrapped in plastic and tape. When the workers attempted to remove the wrapping material, an uncontrolled release of radioactive contaminants occurred, resulting in the contamination of 16 workers and the facility, including plaintiffs Brian Simmons and Ralph Stanton. The sequence of events leading up to the release of contaminants, the uncontrolled release itself, and the emergency response at the ZPPR facility were all recorded on video.
"At the time of the plutonium release, the INL nuclear operators were employed by
Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC ('Battelle), a private entity under contract with the U.S.
Department of Energy ('DOE') which, as of 2005, had taken over operations of the MFC and other facilities at the INL. On January 4, 2012, the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy issued an 'Accident Investigation Report' about the plutonium release ('Report'). It concluded that the release was 'preventable' and determined that both the DOE Idaho Office and Battelle bore responsibility for various root causes for the contamination of the ZPPR nuclear operators.
"In May 2013, plaintiffs requested various documents under the Freedom of Information Act ('FOIA') concerning the incident and their exposure to radioactive contamination. Though some material was produced, on May 9, 2013, the DOE Idaho Office withheld, on purported 'privacy' grounds, all video regarding the plutonium contamination incident, including footage that presumably captured the contaminant release itself and the emergency response. This is video the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy obtained during the course of its investigation and relied on as a 'unique opportunity to observe the entire work process taking place at the time of the accident.'
"On June 12, 2013, the DOE Idaho Office shifted its withholding rationale and claimed that the videotape was not 'an agency record.' But the DOE Idaho Office also asserted, in the alternative, various substantive reasons for not releasing the tape, including (again) purported 'privacy' grounds. Plaintiffs timely filed an administrative appeal. On July 17, 2013, the DOE's Office of Hearings and Appeals rejected this appeal, finding that Battelle had 'generated' the tape and used it for its 'employee-related' investigation and concluding (erroneously) that the tape was thus 'not an agency record.'
"This lawsuit seeks to compel production of all video related to the November 8, 2011 plutonium release at the ZPPR facility. All such video is an agency record of the DOE for purposes of FOIA. The DOE obtained the tape and in its Report relied on it as fundamental evidence that both the DOE and Battelle breached DOE safety standards. There are no cognizable privacy interests in the mere images of other unidentified INL workers depicted in the video. At minimum, any privacy interests are outweighed by the public interest in accessing video representation of the actual release, especially where the Accident Investigation Report repeatedly referenced the video as depicting the safety planning and response flaws that the Report criticized as contributing to the cause of the 'preventable' contamination."
Simmons and Stanton say in the complaint that the DOE report revealed "noncompliances" and "management deficiencies" that are clearly evident in the video.
They claim the report cites noncompliances even before Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) took over operations, and that "the treatment of a failed Pu (plutonium) fuel plate hazard and potential accident in BEA's safety basis is of supreme relevance to this accident investigation, because it ultimately resulted in the lack of additional controls that could have prevented the accident on Nov. 8, 2011."
They want the court to order the release of the video without restriction.
They are represented by John Sheridan with MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, of Seattle.