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Accueil du site > 13- Livre Treize : ART ET REVOLUTION > Le mystère Silkwood ou les crimes de la mafia nucléaire portés à (...)

Le mystère Silkwood ou les crimes de la mafia nucléaire portés à l’écran

dimanche 23 août 2020, par Robert Paris

Le mystère Silkwood ou les crimes de la mafia nucléaire portés à l’écran

Ce fut un vulgaire accident de la circulation, qui permit aux journalistes américains de savoir que le plutonium quittait l’usine de Kerr Mc Gee, spécialisée dans son exploitation

Le 13 novembre 1974, vers 18 heure, une petite Honda quittait brusquement la route 74, dans l’État d’Oklahoma, et s’écrasait contre un mur de béton. La conductrice était seule à bord, elle fut tuée sur le coup. Dans les jours qui suivirent, son nom se répandit dans toutes le rédactions. Elle s’appelait Karen Silkwood, et le fait divers auquel elle était liée provoqua la peur dans les rangs du F.B.I. et de la C.I.A.

Militante syndicale active, miss Silkwood était laborantine à l’usine Kerr Mc Gee, l’une des principales entreprises américaines fabriquant des barres d’uranium et de plutonium.

Karen travaillait activement à la bataille pour la sécurité des installations nucléaires et la protection des ouvriers qui y travaillaient.

La jeune femme avait témoigné deux mois plus tôt devant la Commisssion à l’Énergie atomique pour dénoncer le non-respect des lois de sécurité et des règlements par la direction de l’usine où elle était employée.

Le soir de sa mort, elle devait se rendre à un rendez-vous avec un reponsable de son syndicat et un journaliste du New York Times, auxquels elle avait promis de fournir des preuves à l’appui de ses accusations.

Cette étrange affaire prenait l’allure d’un roman d’espionnage, car la disparition providentielle de la jeune syndicaliste faisait retomber le silence sur ses dossiers secrets. Vous avez dit bizzare ?

Anthony Mazzochi, représentant du syndicat à Washington, décida de mettre le feu aux poudres. Alors que la police d’Oklahoma City avait rapidement conclu à un banal accident, un détective payé par Mazocchi découvrit que miss Silkwood avait absorbé une forte quantité d’alcool et de tranquillisants avant de prendre la route. Mieux son véhicule portait à l’arrière, les traces évidente d’un télescopage !

La Honda blanche de la laborantine avait donc bel et bien été propulsé contre l’obstacle en béton !

Le F.B.I. et la C.I.A. ne demeurèrent pas impassibles devant ce scénario macabre. Leurs enquêtes sont restées secrètes.

Pour sa part, la Commission à l’Énergie atomique constata que les accusations de la syndicaliste défunte n’étaient pas sans fondement. La principale d’entre elles faisait ressortir qu’à plusieurs reprises, des charges de plutonium s’étaient accumulées, jusqu’à atteindre la masse critique, c’est à dire la quantité nécessaire à partir de laquelle la réaction de fission risquait de se produire accidentellement !

Le Mystère Silkwood est un film américain tourné par Mike Nichols à Howe au Texas, sorti en 1983

Le film narre l’histoire réelle de Karen Silkwood morte dans des circonstances douteuses alors qu’elle enquêtait sur des actes délictueux dans l’usine de plutonium où elle travaillait à Cimarron (Oklahoma).

Karen Silkwood enquêtait sur le "syndrome d’irradiation aigüe".

Le syndrome d’irradiation aiguë (ou fièvre des radiations, ou encore, anciennement, maladie des rayons) désigne un ensemble de symptômes potentiellement mortels qui résultent d’une exposition ponctuelle des tissus biologiques d’une partie importante du corps à une forte dose de rayonnements ionisants, en particulier à une radioactivité intense.

Il se manifeste généralement par une phase prodromique non létale dans les minutes ou heures qui suivent l’irradiation. Elle dure quelques heures à quelques jours et se manifeste le plus souvent par les symptômes suivants : diarrhée, nausée, vomissements, anorexie (manque d’appétit), érythème (rougeurs de peau). S’ensuit une période de latence dite Walking Ghost Phase, d’apparente guérison, d’autant plus courte que l’irradiation a été sévère ; elle dure quelques heures à quelques semaines. Enfin, survient la phase aiguë, potentiellement mortelle, qui se manifeste par un vaste spectre de symptômes possibles, dont les plus fréquents sont liés à des troubles hématopoïétiques (production des cellules sanguines), gastro-intestinaux, cutanés, respiratoires et cérébro-vasculaires.

Les sources de rayonnement naturelles ne sont généralement pas assez puissantes pour provoquer le syndrome, de sorte qu’il résulte le plus souvent d’activités humaines : accident nucléaire grave dans un laboratoire ou une centrale nucléaire (accident de criticité par exemple), exposition à une source radioactive puissante (source médicale ou d’instrumentation) ou explosion atomique.

En 1974, les lobbies de l’atome dans le monde occidental sont inquiets. Partout, des mouvements anti-nucléaires prennent de l’ampleur et demandent plus de transparence. Aux États-Unis, le très puissant Sierra Club vient de demander une enquête parlementaire sur les pratiques des compagnies privées d’électricité et leur non-respect des consignes de sécurité. À Crescent, dans l’Oklahoma, Karen Silkwood est chimiste à l’usine nucléaire Kerr-McGee. Déléguée syndicale, elle est scandalisée par les risques que courent les ouvriers et mène une enquête sur les nombreux accidents qui ont été cachés au public. Le soir du 13 novembre, elle a rendez-vous avec un journaliste pour une interview. Un véhicule lui barre soudain la route et la percute violemment. Elle meurt dans l’épave de sa voiture tandis que des inconnus embarquent son sac et son carton de dossiers. Le FBI conclura qu’il s’agissait d’un accident... mais enverra quand même trois agents le lendemain matin fouiller son appartement. La société Kerr-McGee était un des principaux financeurs de la campagne du gouverneur de l’Oklahoma.

L’affaire sera portée à l’écran par Mike Nichols et Meryl Streep, en 1983.

Sur la syndicaliste Karen Silkwood

la suite...

After being hired at Kerr-McGee, Silkwood joined the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union local and took part in a strike at the plant. After the strike ended, she was elected to the union’s bargaining committee and assigned to investigate health and safety issues. She discovered what she believed to be numerous violations of health regulations, including 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.[4]:19-23

In the summer of 1974, Silkwood testified to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) about these issues, alleging that safety standards had slipped because of a production speedup which resulted in employees being given tasks for which they were poorly trained. She also alleged that Kerr-McGee employees handled the fuel rods improperly and that the company falsified inspection records.[4]:22-23

On November 5, 1974, Silkwood performed a routine self-check and found almost 400 times the legal limit for plutonium contamination. She was decontaminated at the plant and sent home with a testing kit to collect urine and feces for further analysis. Oddly, though there was plutonium on the exterior surfaces (the ones she touched) of the gloves she had been using, the gloves did not have any holes. This suggests the contamination did not come from inside the glovebox, but from some other source.[5]

The next morning, as she headed to a union negotiation meeting, she again tested positive for plutonium. This was surprising because she had only performed paperwork duties that morning. She was given a more intense decontamination. The following day, November 7, 1974, as she entered the plant, she was found to be dangerously contaminated — even expelling contaminated air from her lungs. A health physics team accompanied her back to her home and found plutonium traces on several surfaces — especially in the bathroom and the refrigerator. The house was later stripped and decontaminated. Silkwood, her partner and housemate were sent to Los Alamos National Laboratory for in-depth testing to determine the extent of the contamination in their bodies.[6]

Debate has centered over how Silkwood became contaminated over this 3-day period. Silkwood herself asserted that she was the victim of a malicious campaign, and that the testing jars she had been given were laced with plutonium. The contamination in the bathroom would have occurred when she spilled her urine sample on the morning of November 7. It was also consistent with the fact that samples she took at home had extremely high levels of contamination, whilst samples taken in ’fresh’ jars at the plant and at Los Alamos showed much lower contamination.

Kerr-McGee’s management asserted that she had contaminated herself in order to paint the company in a negative light. According to Richard Raske’s book The Killing of Karen Silkwood, security at the plant was so extremely lax that workers could easily smuggle out finished plutonium pellets.[4]:56-62 Indeed, on one occasion a worker gave his son a pellet to take to a show and tell session at school.[citation needed] Silkwood had previously been noted for inquiring as to the health effects of eating a pellet (an understandably unusual request). Furthermore, upon decontaminating her home, Kerr-McGee employees found several pieces of lab equipment, such as beakers and test tubes.[citation needed] It is theorized[who ?] that her house was broken into, and the plutonium was placed in her home to further contaminate her with intent of causing her death ;[citation needed] and at the same time, attempting to frame her for intentionally contaminating herself, so she could not pursue civil compensation from Kerr-McGee for her contamination.[4]

Nonetheless, Richard Raske’s book also asserts that the precise type of plutonium found in her body (soluble) came from a production area to which Silkwood had not had access for 4 months. The pellets had since been stored in the vault of the facility.[4] [edit] Going public

Silkwood said she had assembled a stack of documentation for her claims. She now decided to go public with this evidence, and made contact with a New York Times journalist prepared to print the story. On November 13, 1974 she left a union meeting at the Hub Cafe in Crescent. Another attendee of that meeting later testified that she did have a binder and a packet of documents at the cafe.[1] Silkwood got into her car and headed alone for Oklahoma City, about 30 miles (48 km) away, to meet with New York Times reporter David Burnham and Steve Wodka, an official of her union’s national office. [edit] Death

Later that evening, Silkwood’s body was found in her car, which had run off the road and struck a culvert. The car contained no documents. She was pronounced dead at the scene from a "classic, one-car sleeping-driver accident". The trooper at the scene remembers that he found one or two tablets of the sedative methaqualone (Quaalude) in the car, and he remembers finding marijuana. The police report indicated that she fell asleep at the wheel. The coroner found 0.35 milligrams of methaqualone per 100 milliliters of blood at the time of her death — an amount almost twice the recommended dosage for inducing drowsiness.[7]

However, some[8] have theorized that Silkwood’s car was rammed from behind by another vehicle and with the intent to cause an accident that would result in her death. Skid marks from Silkwood’s car were present on the road, which have prompted some[who ?] to suggest that she was desperately trying to get back onto the road after being pushed from behind.[4]:99-101, 114-115

Investigators also noted damage on the rear of Silkwood’s vehicle that, according to Silkwood’s friends and family, was not present prior the accident. The crash was entirely a front-end collision, so there would be no explanation for the damage to the rear of her vehicle. A microscopic examination of the rear of Silkwood’s car showed paint chips that could only have come from a rear-impact from another vehicle. Silkwood’s family claimed that Silkwood did not have any accidents or fender-benders with the car that they knew of, and that the 1974 Honda Civic she was driving was not a used car when it was purchased. Further, there had been no insurance claims filed on the vehicle.[4]:114-115

The car did not contain any documents, which relatives swore she took with her and had placed on the seat beside her, leading some to allege that they were stolen from her car immediately after the crash in order to silence her allegations concerning her workplace. According to Silkwood’s family, she had received several threatening phone calls very shortly before her death. Such speculation about foul play has never been substantiated.[4]

Silkwood’s organs were analyzed as part of the Los Alamos Tissue Analysis Program by request of the Atomic Energy Commission and the State Medical Examiner. Much of the radiation was in her lungs, which tends to suggest that the plutonium was inhaled. When her tissues were further examined, the second highest deposits were found in her gastrointestinal organs.

Public suspicions led to a federal investigation into plant security and safety, and a National Public Radio report concerning 44 to 66 pounds of misplaced plutonium. Silkwood’s story emphasized the hazards of nuclear energy and raised questions about corporate accountability and responsibility. Kerr-McGee closed its nuclear fuel plants in 1975. The grounds of the Cimarron plant were still being decontaminated 25 years later.[7]

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