Karen Silkwood

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Basic Information

Karen Silkwood, the whistleblower, almost leaked information about the company she worked for, Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site, about health concerns for the workers of the plant.


Karen made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods at the plant. After performing a routine self check after work, she discovered 400 times the legal amount of plutonium contamination, mostly in her lungs. A health physics team did some more tests after this and her house was decontaminated and some of it totally destroyed.

The Information

After being tested, Karen decided to take the tests and their results and expose them to the public. She made claims about health concerns, violations, worker exposure to contamination, faulty respiration equipment, improper storage of samples and the fact that a lack of sufficient showers could contribute to this. She contacted a NY times journalist, David Burnham and planned to meet him with all the information.


After being seen leaving to go to the meeting and not arriving there, her car was discovered on the side of the road. It had hit a culvert and she had died from the collision. Her binder with all her findings in it was gone. Police say that she had fallen asleep at the wheel and sedatives were found in her car. The car also had obvious signs of being hit from behind and forced to crash. Her family also said she had received threatening phone calls before the incident.


An autopsy revealed that Karen had major plutonium contamination in her body. This led to an investigation of the plant. This found that 44 to 66 pounds of plutonium were found missing. After this was revealed to the public, the plant closed. A movie was made about Karen's death, Silkwood, and also a book, The Killing of Karen Silkwood.

Works Cited

"Karen Silkwood." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 18 Dec. 2014. .