Silkwood became famous after dying in a car crash - a crash many consider suspicious as Silkwood was about to go public with her findings...
A Cover Up?
On this night Silkwood left a union meeting concerning workers health and safety at the plant and travelled to Oklahoma City, some 30 miles away, in order to meet with a New York Times Reporter and a union official.
Silkwoods car and body would be later found, the car having run off the road into a culvert. Karen Silkwood was pronounced dead at the scene and the cause of death was ruled an accident – thought to have come about after Silkwood apparently fell asleep behind the wheel. Later toxicology would find Silkwood had double the recommended dose of Quaaludes in her system, more than enough to put her to sleep and cause the accident.
However there were some aspects of the crash that did not add up... but we have to go back a few weeks first.
On the 5th of November, Silkwood performed a self examination and found she had more than 400 times the limit for human plutonium – 239 (the primary stuff in nuclear weapons) contamination. She was decontaminated, given a kit to monitor her levels and sent home. On the 6th she went to a union meeting where it was found she was still contaminated, although she had not handled any plutonium or had been exposed to any.
She was more thoroughly decontaminated but two days later when arriving at work she was found to still be highly contaminated and once again sent home. This time a team went with her to carry out an investigation.
Traces of Plutonium were found on many surfaces of her home.
Silkwood at first claimed that she must have been exposed and contaminated at work (later she started to make claims that she may intentionally be poisoned, these were rebuffed and later claims were made that Silkwood was poisoning herself as 'evidence') and set about gathering documentation and evidence for her claims. She decided to go public and contacted a New York Times reporter to carry the story. She had all of her documentation and evidence on her when she left her union meeting on the 13th, all to be shown at her next meeting.
Unfortunately she crashed on the way, her body full of sedative discovered in her car.
Although deemed an accident the Atomic Energy Commission did run an analysis to the extent of contamination in Silkwoods body. The majority was discovered in the lungs and gastrointestinal organs. This led investigators to the conclusion the contamination had come from the air.
In 1975 Kerr – McGee closed down their plants and this took place after it was discovered that a large amount of Plutonium was missing.... 44 pounds of it, enough for several decent yield nuclear weapons. Had Karen Silkwood found out about this missing fissile, weaponisable isotope and where it may have gone?
The resulting case of Silkwood (father and children) VS Kerr – McGee ended with Kerr – McGee settling out of court and without admitting liability.
This is a very basic look at the events leading up to Karen Silkwoods death. There is so much more out there on the subject ranging from documentaries to a Hollywood movie 'Silkwood' starring Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood
So what happened to Karen Silkwood?
Was Karen Silkwood being deliberately poisoned due to her investigations into safety concerns for workers at the Kerr – McGee facility?
Was she bumped off the road and murdered before her findings could be made public?
Were the Quaaludes taken by Silkwood, maybe to calm nerves before a big meeting, or were they deposited in her to make the death look more like an 'accident'?
Was she poisoning herself with plutonium as 'evidence'?
What happened to the plutonium-239 that was missing from the facility?