Feds seek more information from eastern Idaho company after worker's radiation exposure

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Federal nuclear officials want an eastern Idaho company to provide detailed information about how it determined a worker's level of radiation exposure after a mishap exposed the worker to an amount initially estimated to be the maximum allowable in an entire year.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also said Friday it has issued a formal letter to International Isotopes Inc. in Idaho Falls confirming specific steps the company will take before resuming some operations following the Aug. 20 incident.

"We're taking this very, very seriously," said Steve Laflin, the company's president and CEO. "We're going to aggressively go through the whole program from top to bottom to make sure we have the appropriate steps in place."

International Isotopes makes radioactive products for cancer treatment, research and industry.

Several days after initially estimating the radiation exposure to the worker's hand, the company revised the estimate to a much lower level that fell below the annual dose limit set by federal officials. The estimate of exposure to the worker's body also was lowered significantly.

Laflin said the company chose to be especially cautious with its initial response by estimating a high amount of radiation received by the employee. But after examining video and considering results from a medical test, he said, the company revised the amount. He said he expected the federal agency to confirm those results.

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"This is an instance where an individual had a cognitive error — just lost awareness of what they were doing," Laflin said.

The worker, described by Laflin as a senior technician with more than a decade of experience, was using an instrument to remove cobalt from a container when it became stuck and then unstuck.

"It fell to the floor between his legs," said Victor Dricks, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman, noting the item weighed about 40 pounds. "He maintained control of it, but it came out of the container, and it shouldn't have. In those few brief seconds, they estimate he received in excess of an annual dose limit."

Dricks said the federal agency will verify the company's calculations of the exposure the worker received.

"We want to look at all of that to make sure they arrived at the correct conclusions," Dricks said.

He said the likely outcome is that the NRC will impose certain conditions for the company to continue the work, but he didn't anticipate a fine. The agency plans a follow-up inspection at the company's facility, though Dricks said he wasn't sure when that would happen.

The worker, whose name hasn't been released, is not in danger of exposing other people, Dricks said. Laflin said there's no long-term impairment or injury to the employee based on the exposure received.

Laflin said the 25-employee company has had a good safety record until the Aug. 20 incident.