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Kerr-McGee Cimarron Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Site in Oklahoma, USA

The Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site broke federal nuclear regulations for a long time. Laboratory worker and union leader Karen Silkwood investigated such violations and allegedly was murdered for it. The site shut down in 1976.


The Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site, owned and operated by the Kerr/McGee Corporation (KMC) from 1965 to 1975, was a nuclear fuel production facility located by the Cimarron River near Cimarron City, Oklahoma. The site, at the time one of Oklahoma’s most-known and top employers,  is most known for huge scandals brought to national attention by one of its workers, Karen Silkwood [1]. Karen Silkwood was a metallography laboratory technician making plutonium pellets. As one of the first female members and a leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, she participated in a union strike against the company for its history of numerous health and safety issues such as exposure of workers to contamination, faulty respiratory equipment and improper storage of samples. She also believed the lack of sufficient shower facilities could increase the risk of employee contamination [2]. Other union members also claimed that  "the Kerr-McGee plant had manufactured faulty fuel rods, falsified product inspection records, and risked employee safety” [3].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict: Kerr-McGee Cimarron Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Site in Oklahoma, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Oklahoma
Location of conflict:Cimarron City
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear power plants
Specific commodities:Plutonium
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Atomic Energy Commission awarded Kerr-McGee a $9.6 million contract to produce fuel rods for experimental nuclear reactors using plutonium instead of uranium. The plant was built twenty miles outside Oklahoma City on a 900-acre site next to an existing uranium plant. Transients and students were often hired to work in the plant and allegedly most workers were generally unaware of the risks of plutonium exposure because they were improperly trained. Under AEC rules, all contamination incidents should have been reported and, except in minor cases, production should have halted while leaks were fixed. The company frequently ignored these guidelines, however, because the company was under intense pressure to produce as much as possible [5].

Project area:365
Level of Investment for the conflictive project$9,600,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:287
Start of the conflict:05/11/1974
End of the conflict:03/01/1976
Company names or state enterprises:Kerr-McGee Corporation (KMC) from United States of America - Perpetrator
Relevant government actors:Atomic Energy Commission
United States Department of Energy
U.S. Supreme Court
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Trade unions
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsPlutonium contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Specific impacts on women
Potential: Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Project cancelled
Trade unionist and plant worker Karen Silkwood died in a mysterious car crash in 1974
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The lawsuit carried out by Karen Silkwood's supporters resulted in financial compensation, but that did not directly cause the plant to shut down. The plant only shut down from bankruptcy later on. Furthermore, plant workers making legal claims for compensation for health effects suffered from working there to this day are still waiting for justice.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[8] Cimarron (Kerr-McGee) Decomissioning
[click to view]

U.S. Department of Energy Report on Decontamination and Decommissioning of the Kerr/McGee Plant
[click to view]

Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 485 F. Supp. 566 (W.D. Okla. 1979)
[click to view]

US Supreme Court: SILKWOOD v. KERR-McGEE CORP.(1984)
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

The case of Karen Silkwood (Public Health)
[click to view]

[4] The Karen Silkwood Story
[click to view]

[5] Karen Silkwood Was Right in Plutonium Scandal
[click to view]

[7] A.E.C. Finds Evidence Supporting Charges of Health Hazards at Plutonium Processing Plant in Oklahoma
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[6] Video: 44 years later, the death of Karen Silkwood is still a mystery
[click to view]

Movie trailer: Silkwood (1983, starring Meryl Streep, Cher, and Kurt Russell)
[click to view]

Podcast: Questions Linger About The Death Of Karen Silkwood
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update29/12/2019
Conflict ID:4871
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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