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Crackdown on nuke workers


October 18, 2006

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. -- It sounds like something from a movie sequel called "Cheech and Chong Visit the Atomic City": nuclear workers sleeping on the job, watching TV, playing cards and smoking dope.

As it turns out, they all were true.




The crackdown came last week at the Molten Salt Reactor, an old experimental reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Bechtel Jacobs Co., the Department of Energy's cleanup manager, and its subcontractors were preparing to remove tons of highly radioactive fuel salts stored there since the reactor was shut down in 1969.

According to Dennis Hill, a spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs, a visit to a break trailer outside the reactor confirmed that some workers were sleeping, playing cards and watching TV. Hill said the company called law-enforcement officials in Roane County, and a K-9 unit reportedly found indications that marijuana had been smoked in the trailer - even though none of the weed was actually found there.

During a tour of the parking lot, drug dogs "hit" on four different vehicles, one of which contained an unspecified amount of marijuana and residues associated with the smoke, Hill said. The owner of that vehicle, who worked for a Bechtel Jacobs subcontractor, was fired on the spot, he said.

Another car contained prescription drugs, while there was nothing of interest found in the other two, Hill said.

Meanwhile, more than 50 people working on the Molten Salt Reactor project were required immediately to take drug tests, Bechtel Jacobs said.

One worker refused to submit to the urinalysis and quit his job, Hill said.

Of the 54 people tested so far, four of the tests were found to be "non-negative" and will be analyzed further.

"We'll see what the fate of the other four is when (the lab results are completed)," said John Shewairy of DOE's Oak Ridge office. "If they come back clean, they have nothing to worry about."

Shewairy said DOE has a "zero-tolerance" policy for drug use.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, DOE Manager Gerald Boyd said: "Certainly, this type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I think the outcome of this particular incident shows that we're serious. If you introduce drugs into the workplace, you are going to lose your job, and we'll do all in our power to see that the justice system deals with you."

Most nuclear work at the Molten Salt Reactor has been suspended for several months because of a fluorine leak earlier this year. The cleanup plan called for additional training this fall and restart of fuel-removal tasks in November. It was not immediately clear if the latest incident would alter that schedule.


Contact Frank Munger of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at
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