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Radiation accident at Idaho nuclear lab subject of new lawsuit

Associated Press

IDAHO FALLS – A new federal lawsuit has been filed involving a 2011 accident at an eastern Idaho nuclear facility that exposed 16 workers to plutonium.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday on behalf of Ralph Stanton. It follows up on a 2013 whistleblower complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor by Stanton and then-colleague Brian Simmons.

The complaint says Battelle Energy Alliance created an unsafe work environment at the Idaho National Laboratory and retaliated after Stanton and Simmons raised health and safety concerns. The Department of Labor never took action on the complaints, leading Stanton to file this week’s lawsuit.

“I’m looking forward to a jury of my peers deciding my case,” Stanton, 50, told the Post Register of Idaho Falls on Friday. “It’s been a long time coming. And I’m ready to get it on.”

A Battelle spokeswoman declined comment Friday.

Stanton’s complaint says Battelle violated a federal law providing protection to whistleblowers who raise concerns about nuclear safety. Now working as a truck driver, Stanton seeks compensation and for Battelle to remove negative performance evaluations from his personnel file.

The accident happened in a building that once housed a nuclear reactor. Workers had been taking plutonium fuel out of storage when they came upon radioactive materials held in two containers, each marked with a label stating the containers were damaged.

After talking to supervisors, workers removed the wrapping on one of the containers and a radioactive black powder spilled out. The workers had on lab coats and some had gloves, but none had respiratory gear or other protective clothing, according to a report released in 2013 by the Department of Energy.

Plutonium can linger in the body for decades, increasing the risk of cancer and potentially causing damage to the kidneys.

The lawsuit describes how, in the two years following the accident, Battelle “increasingly retaliated against (Stanton) and ultimately terminated him wrongfully” following his whistleblower complaints.

He was fired for sleeping on the job, which Stanton disputes.

Simmons filed a similar lawsuit last fall, but he continues to work at the Idaho National Laboratory.

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