Sellafield worker exposed to plutonium had hand punctured by corroded probe

Sellafield worker exposed to plutonium had hand punctured by corroded probe
Posted 10th April 2019

Companies are urged to properly assess the risk workers are exposed to after Sellafield was fined £380,000 following an incident where a worker received eight times the annual whole-body exposure limit of plutonium.

The operator of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage and reprocessing site in Cumbria admitted breaching section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act and must pay costs of £96,753.

The incident, which took place on 5th February 2017, saw Jonathan Greggain handling a radioactive probe in a glovebox when he was cut on his left hand.

The probe, which was part of an alarm system, was sharp and corroded and had punctured Greggain’s hand through the protective glove he was wearing.

Through the wound, he received an intake of plutonium that was equal to approximately eight times the maximum legal annual exposure limit for workers in the nuclear industry.

A small area of Greggain’s skin was affected and had to be removed, with further tests revealing that he received an internal dose of radiation.

According to the BBC, Nigel Lawrence QC told the court plutonium entering the bloodstream through a wound was “by far the most dangerous pathway to individuals.”

The Federation of American Scientists have stated that plutonium passed into the bloodstream through a wound deposits in the lungs, liver or bones, and can remain in the body “for many decades” damaging surrounding cells. 

Inspector Paul Smith said: “This was a case where Sellafield failed to properly assess the risk to workers arising from sharp objects when working in a glovebox. 

“The accident could have been avoided had the corroded probe been routinely replace – a change that was put in place by the company immediately after the event.”

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