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Karen Silkwood

From Academic Kids

Karen Silkwood (October 24, 1946November 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 earlier tested positive for plutonium contamination.

The 1983 film Silkwood is a fictional account of her life and story. Meryl Streep played the title role.

Speculation about foul play in Silkwood's death has never been substantiated. However, some independent investigators at the time inferred that her vehicle had been hit from behind and forced off the road. Public suspicions led to a federal investigation into plant security and safety, and a National Public Radio report about 44 to 66 pounds of misplaced plutonium. Silkwood's story 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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