Workers at the Energy Department uranium- enrichment plant in Paducah will be subjects of an independent medical review following charges that thousands of employees were unwittingly exposed to plutonium and other highly radioactive metals.
Richardson ordered the study after a newspaper reported that the Paducah case differed from other nuclear contamination incidents because workers there did not know they were handling plutonium. Instead, they thought they were dealing only with much less-potent uranium, which they were enriching for commercial nuclear fuel.
"It's inexcusable if the government concealed information, along with the contractors, that in the '50s and '60s and '70s these workers might have been exposed to plutonium," Richardson said. "If that is the case ... and we are investigating, these individuals need to be treated and compensated, the government has to apologize."
Richardson said the reason the government has only now started investigating is, "We have only recently come into some of this information. I sent a team down in June," he said.
"It appears that somehow the government was not candid on the levels of exposure. This is inexcusable," he said.
But does Richardson believe it's safe there now?
"I believe it's safe. But we're going to be double sure. This is why I've asked an independent commission, the National Academy of Sciences of Independent Doctors, to look into this. I don't think the government has the credibility to say it is totally safe but we also... need to look into the past - the '50s, '60s - comprehensive medical history, talk to a lot of the workers and find out that if they weren't leveled [with]... then the government should be held accountable..." Richardson said.