In what will surely go down as one of the great Madness of August (TM) debates, we've spent several weeks discussing whether an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan presents a threat to our very way of life or represents the simple exercise of religious freedom. What we have not been talking about is whether a uranium-enrichment plant in Illinois is going to blow up because its trained union workforce has been locked out by management over a contract dispute. Mike Elk reports:
On Saturday, nuclear regulators allowed Honeywell to start up core production at the facility, where core production had been shut down for over two months due to concerns about the training of replacement workers. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission delayed reopening the plant for several days after questions were raised about the unusually high levels of uranium that were appearing in the urine tests of several nuclear workers.
The following day, a hydrogen explosion rocked the plant. The blast shook the ground in front of the plant and could be heard a mile away, according to local reports. State Trooper Bridget Rice said that police were called to investigate to the scene of the explosion after receiving several phone calls reporting an explosion at the plant. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah also confirmed that there was indeed "a small hydrogen explosion that was very loud" at the Metropolis facility.
Worker organizing doesn't just ensure employees' right to a voice in their workplace but also provides a variety of practical benefits to society. At a time when companies are not investing in worker training and human capital, union training and safety practices (c.f. Miracle on the Hudson) help keep people safe. I don't know about you, but I'd like the workers handling uranium in this country to be highly trained and appropriately compensated.
More broadly, this is not the kind of thing that will prompt conservative national-security hawks to freak out (perhaps because there are no easily exploited minorities involved). But safety and security at a nuclear facility is much more important than the chimeras that occupy most of our national-security discussions.
-- Tim Fernholz
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