Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Mysterious Death of Karen Silkwood

Making a List and Checking it Twice

She began carrying a small flip-top notebook around with her. On breaks, in between shifts, at lunch, and in the locker rooms, she would ask employees for any health and safety concerns. When there was a leak, when someone had gotten "hot," she wrote it down.

Her vigilance did not go unnoticed by management, and the resulting friction between her and management alienated some of her coworkers—the very people she was trying to help. James Noel, a former coworker, told Biography for its documentary, Karen Silkwood: A Life on the Line:

"It was a good job. Most of us kinda liked working there. We felt like we were doing something that was worthwhile. Maybe we were doing something that was good for the country, good for humanity."

Nuclear fuel pellets such as these were manufactured and loaded into fuel rods at the Cimarron facility.
Nuclear fuel pellets such as these were
manufactured and loaded into fuel rods
at the Cimarron facility.

Deemed a troublemaker, she was moved off her regular station in Metallography in what was viewed by some as retaliation from management. She learned that in the process of inspecting the fuel rods, photographic negatives which were used to examine the rods more closely were sometimes touched up with a felt tip pen. Though the company later said it was only to cover up dust particles, at the time she didn't know if that was the truth. She began collecting evidence documenting her concerns, and it was believed that she had evidence of negatives that might have been doctored.

The negatives were important for several reasons, but the most important was that the company might be sending out products that were faulty and could potentially be dangerous.

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