Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Karen Silkwood (October 24, 1946 – November 13, 1974) was a labor union activist and chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee plutonium fields near Crescent, Oklahoma. She died in a car crash on her way to a meeting with a union representative and New York Times reporter David Burnham in Oklahoma City. The police report indicated that she fell asleep at the wheel, but some suspect that she was murdered to silence her allegations about her workplace. Silkwood had tested positive for plutonium contamination.
Speculations over foul play in her death were never substantiated. However, some independent investigators at the time inferred that her vehicle had been hit from behind and forced off the road. The foul play speculations led to a federal investigation into plant security and safety, and a National Public Radio report about forty-four to sixty-six pounds of misplaced plutonium. Her case, which began in 1974, emphasized the hazards of nuclear energy and raised questions about corporate accountability and responsibility. According to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union , the Kerr-McGee plant had manufactured faulty fuel rods, falsified product inspection records, and risked employee safety. Eventually, Kerr-McGee closed the plant.
In 1986 Silkwood's family, represented by Gerry Spence, settled an $11.5 million plutonium-contamination lawsuit against Kerr-McGee for $1.38 million. Kerr-McGee did not admit liability in settling the case.
Karen Silkwood was buried in Danville Cemetery, Kilgore, Texas.
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