MAC: Mines and Communities

World's biggest producef of cyanide lambasted by US's biggest miners' union

Published by MAC on 2005-11-10

World's biggest producef of cyanide lambasted by US's biggest miners' union

By Joe Drexler, USW Strategic Campaign

10th November 2005

For several decades, Dupont has been the world's biggest single manufacturer of cyanide compounds, which include sodium cyanide used in gold mining. Its dirty fingers also extend to handling uranium and plutonium. Now, as it bids for a new contract to re-enter the Savannah River nuclear weapons facility in South Carolina, the United Steelworkers of America is determined that the company's shameful record should be publicly exposed.


PR Newswire

The United Steel Workers (USW) has filed an extensive information request under the Freedom of Information Act from the Department of Energy concerning accidents, security breaches, radiation releases and other environmental contamination that occurred during the DuPont Company's 1954 to 1989 operation of the Savannah River Site (SRS), a nuclear weapons facility located near Aiken, South Carolina.

DuPonti sued a news release on October 11 that indicated its intent to once again play a role in the plant's operation and bid on $7.5 billion of DOE (Department of Energy) contracts. According to the USW, DuPont abandoned the site in the wake of DOE criticism of the company's mismanagement and of mishaps that could have resulted in cataclysmic accidents.

A congressional hearing in October 1987 indicated that there were over 30 serious accidents at SRS under DuPont's management between 1957 and 1985. By 1988, the company's reactors at SRS were forced to shut down due to dangerous conditions.

In 1989, a senior Department of Energy official described the plant under DuPont's management as being held together "with baling wire and tape."

The request includes specific requests for information covering the following incidents at SRS:

- a 1960 "fast startup" that could have resulted in a serious meltdown;

- a 1964 incident when cooling water was almost cutoff after operators shutdown the wrong system by accident;

- a 1971 melting of a fuel rod that released radioactivity into the reactor process room;

- the 1982 finding that 35.9 pounds of plutonium and 6.9 pounds of enriched uranium were "missing;"

- the 1983 successful breach of plant security by trained commandos, hired to test plant security;

- the 1983 release of 50 tons of allegedly cancer-causing chemicals that reportedly contaminated the major aquifer that supplies water to South Carolina and Georgia towns;

- the 1988 shutdown of three reactors after leaks were found in reactor systems, and the failure of DuPont to report the leaks in a timely fashion.

"We believe that DuPont's record shows an irresponsible and dangerous pattern of behavior, and we intend to make this record public to prevent the DOE from making the same mistake twice by awarding DuPont a significant role at SRS," said Dr. Joseph Drexler of the USW Strategic Campaign Department.

"We believe the record will reveal that DuPont created an enormous mess at SRS, abandoned the facility, and now wants to come back and be paid to manage a cleanup of the problems for which it may still be responsible," added Drexler.

Fluor Corporation, which will team with DuPont in bidding on contracts at SRS, is a contractor for DuPont at its Fayetteville plant, where C8, a potentially dangerous chemical used to make Teflon, has contaminated the local groundwater and surface water. DuPont has been heavily criticized for not disclosing the contamination until months after it was discovered.

The USW represents 1,800 DuPont workers and 5,000 workers at DOE nuclear weapons facilities, and is the largest industrial union in North America with 850,000 members.


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