Becca Anderson (author of The Book of Awesome Women) explores the mysterious events of Karen Silkwood being exposed to plutonium.
The story of Karen Silkwood is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. On November 13, 1974, she died in a car crash under suspicious circumstances after she very vocally criticized the safety of the plutonium fuels production plant she worked for in Crescent, Oklahoma. She had been on her way to meet with a New York Times reporter to give him evidence that Kerr-McGee was knowingly passing off defective fuel rods as good.
Prior to her death, she was inexplicably exposed to extremely high levels of plutonium. Karen had learned to routinely test herself for exposure, but nothing prepared her for the discoveries made by the Healthy Physics Office upon her request. Although no plutonium was found on any surfaces in the lab she was working in, her apartment was found to have been contaminated. Starting with a measure of 1 disintegrations per minute or dpms as the lowest possible positive result, these measurements were found in her house, according to PBS’ online information site: 400,000 dpm on a package of bologna and cheese in the fridge, 25,000 on the stove sides, 6,000 on a package of chicken, and 100,000 on the toilet seat. After her death, an autopsy determined that Karen Silkwood’s exposure to plutonium had been very recent and the plant could never come up with an explanation for her exposure. A year after her death, the plant closed.
The speculation surrounding her death has never stopped, but proof of company malfeasance has remained inconclusive. It is known, however, that it was Kerr- McGee who sold rods to the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, where defective fuel rods broke down and released radioactivity into the atmosphere.
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