One LLNL Employee Affected; DOE Says Below Levels of Concern

LIVERMORE — The Department of Energy (DOE) has recently announced that it is investigating an incident in which an employee of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was accidentally exposed to radioactive iodine last spring.

As part of a team of members from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and four other national labs, the employee traveled last March on an “international site visit,” where they were “exposed to small amounts of iodine-125 (I-125),” according to an NNSA spokesperson.

Technical experts raised exposure concerns when the team returned and, upon testing, “results for some of them showed a detectable uptake of I-125,” the spokesperson said. Levels, however, were well below regulatory and administrative limits, and well below levels of any clinical concern.

The DOE also found the material in the LLNL worker’s home the following month.

Iodine-125 is used largely in nuclear medicine, which uses radioactivity to treat different types of cancers, according to McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, one of the world’s largest producers of the substance. Radioactive seeds of Iodine-125 can be implanted within tumors to kill cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy tissues.

But accidental exposure, such as through inhalation or ingestion, can present serious health risks, especially to the thyroid gland, as it tends to concentrate iodine.

While much of LLNL’s work in nuclear-stockpile stewardship is classified, the delay in the exposure announcement and the lack of details about the incident has raised concerns with a local watchdog group, Tri-Valley CAREs.

“Maybe the international location should be classified, but an international location does suggest there was an airplane flight, so was that a commercial flight?” asked Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director Scott Yundt, who suggested that the trail of interactions between the travelers and the public deserved to be disclosed.

LLNL did not comment on the risk of public exposure.

Anthony Pierpoint, DOE Director of the Office of Enforcement, notified the lab on Jan. 24 of the investigation, which will include onsite visits and interviews with personnel.

Tri-Valley CAREs will follow the investigation as details emerge, said Yundt, adding that the group also plans to make information requests of their own to garner details about the incident.

Click here to read TVC’s recent blog about the incident