Radiation Workers

Radiation Workers

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The Radiation Workers Series

In 1979, Pam Roberts, Ed Wierzbowski and Tobe Carey formed the Documentary Guild and began the Radiation Workers Project. The aim was to document workers in all phases of the “nuclear fuel cycle”. Over the next few years, the Documentary Guild produced four documentaries. They covered workers at an experimental plutonium fuel operation at Nuclear Lake, a worker with concerns about radiation safety at the Indian Point power station, the first nuclear industry strike at a Tennessee factory making depleted-uranium munitions, and employees at a nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant in West Valley, NY.

1) Indian Point: One Worker's View 24:20 min. 1983. One worker talks about his time at Indian Point, and how he received high radiation dose in minutes while on the job. He and his wife explain the difficulties they faced at work, within the union, and in the community, when they began questioning radiation safety practices at the plant. The last operating power plant at Indian Point, 25 miles north of NY City, was taken off-line in 2021. Edited at Media Bus, Woodstock, NY.

2) Radiation Workers: Reprocessing – 26:35 min. 1979. An early selling point for the nuclear power industry was the promise that highly radioactive fuel could be recycled and used over and over again in reactors. The Nuclear Fuel Services plant in West Valley, NY reprocessed nuclear fuel and produced high level and low level waste for about six years. Additional radioactive waste was imported and buried until 1975. In our program workers, both pro and con, speak of their experiences in the reprocessing plant. In 1980 the facility was abandoned by the owners, leaving large amounts of toxic radioactive waste to NY State. A decades-long cleanup continues. Edited at WXXI-TV in Rochester, NY.

3) UNC: Nuclear Lake 18 min. 1981. In 1958, a Rockefeller backed secret plutonium facility was established on a secluded 1,100 acre site in Pawling, NY. The plant and laboratory were sited on the south shore of the company named Nuclear Lake. United Nuclear Corporation (UNC) tested and experimented with uranium and plutonium for use in nuclear fuel. During its fourteen years in operations several accidents had occurred at the plant. In 1972 a chemical explosion blew out windows and spread plutonium radiation throughout the site. The operation was shuttered the next year with a clean-up cost of at least $3 million. We take a tour of the site and talk with two former workers about the history of the site, the explosion, the contamination, and the cleanup. Edited at Media Bus, Woodstock, NY

4) Tennessee Heavy Metal 20:15 min. 1981. This is the story of the first strike in the nuclear industry. Workers at the Jonesborough, TN depleted-uranium munitions plant walked off the job to protest hazardous radiation levels and working conditions in the assembly of armor-piercing penetrator shells. The union sent a doctor who explained what their high radiation counts could mean for their health. As the months ground on the long strike took its toll on community and family support. We brought the story to CBS 60-Minutes who, in November 1981 sent Mike Wallace to produce their own version of the strike. A congressional hearing, chaired by then Representative Al Gore, also heard testimony from workers and the union doctor. The company, now called Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee, still operates the facility. Edited at Media Bus in Woodstock, NY.

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