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Safety incidents at nuclear sites raise concern

Reports of dangerous safety lapses at a major nuclear laboratory might be of interest to North Carolina workers. The Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of one of the country's most advanced nuclear programs and the place where the atomic bomb was developed, has had a number of safety incidents in the past several years that carried the potential for catastrophic outcomes.

While the laboratory is staffed with some of the world's leading scientists and researchers, there are basic workplace safety concerns in its aging buildings. Important safety systems at Los Alamos, including the lab's fire alarm and suppression systems, date back to the 1970s.

Meanwhile, the lab's concrete construction is a number of decades old. Its age has raised concerns as the Energy Department has sought to expand plutonium pit production there. It isn't the only nuclear site that has been impacted by safety concerns. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington has insufficient funding that in part makes it unable to fully clean up large quantities of toxic waste.

At the Los Alamos lab, incidents have included dangerous and improper cleanup of plutonium spills, improper placement of plutonium rods that risked sparking a nuclear chain reaction and inappropriate packaging of nuclear waste. A number of politicians and federal officials have expressed concerns about ongoing safety issues at the site.

Workers at facilities where toxic, dangerous or radioactive materials are handled are at risk of incurring an occupational disease. Those who do become ill may want to meet with an attorney and discuss their eligibility to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits under their employer's insurance coverage.

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