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Radioactive leak into Mohawk the result of deadline pressures?

Nov 23, 2010 9:54 am

NISKAYUNA -- The Times Union in Albany follows up on the recent radioactive leak story involving the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory on the Mohawk in Latham by reporting today on a new federal investigation that has found that Knolls workers felt pressed by bosses to ignore safety issues and get work done faster.

A draft report, filed by investigators for the Department of Energy and obtained by the Times Union, also concluded that Washington Group International, a private company performing work under a $69 million contract, made missteps that led to an "uncontrolled spread of radioactive contamination" during the Sept. 29 demolition of a tainted Cold War-era research building at the research complex.

The company was pushing to finish work three months earlier than first planned -- by September 2011 rather than December 2011 -- in order to receive an extra $32 million in federal stimulus funding awarded for the cleanup in April 2009.

Two years ago, Knolls began a cleanup of the radioactive soil that covers about five of the facility's 170 acres along the Mohawk River, including the demolition of two buildings dating to the early 1950s, when the federal government researched nuclear weaponry at Knolls.

WGI managers "created an atmosphere of fear among the work force not to speak up about issues of concern," according to the DOE report. Such pressure "appears to be driven by project supervision and management personnel ... brought into the project with the purpose of improving production."

The investigation also found "questionable document practices" by WGI managers, including handwritten changes to safety reports without evidence of when or by whom such changes were made.

The report does not address possible effects, if any, of the contamination on workers or areas outside the Knolls facility.

For more on this breaking story, click HERE.
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