elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Karen Silkwood (February 19, 1946 – November 13, 1974)

Karen Silkwood was a worker at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in Oklahoma during the 1970s. In testimony before the Atomic Energy Commission in the summer of 1974, she accused the company of numerous safety breaches. Soon afterward, she found that her home had been mysteriously contaminated with plutonium. She herself was dangerously contaminated, as was her girlfriend/roommate Sherry Ellis.

Silkwood believed that the company was trying to silence her by poisoning her with plutonium. She assembled a stack of documents corroborating her claims and was on her way to meet a newspaper reporter when she was killed in a mysterious automobile accident. No documents were found in the wreck.

The incident became the basis of the 1983 movie Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep. Cher portrayed Sherry Ellis and was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Her family sued Kerr-McGee on behalf of her estate. In what was the longest trial up until then in Oklahoma history, the jury found Kerr-McGee liable for the plutonium contamination of Silkwood, and awarded substantial damages. These were reduced on appeal, but the case reached the United States Supreme Court in 1979, which upheld the damages verdict. Before another trial took place, Kerr-McGee settled with the estate out of court for US $1.38 million, while not admitting liability.

Stern, Keith (2009-09-01). Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals (Kindle Locations 10960-10967). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Further Readings:

The Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Case, Second Edition by Richard L. Rashke
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: ILR Press; 2 edition (April 13, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080148667X
ISBN-13: 978-0801486678
Amazon: The Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Case

Karen Silkwood, an employee of the Kerr-McGee plutonium processing plant, was killed in a car crash on her way to deliver important documents to a newspaper reporter in 1974. Silkwood was a union activist concerned about health and safety issues at the plant, and her death at age twenty-eight was considered by many to be highly suspicious. Was it Kerr-McGee's revenge on a troublesome whistle-blower? Or was it part of a much larger conspiracy reaching from the Atomic Energy Commission to the FBI and the CIA? Richard Rashke leads us through the myriad of charges and countercharges, theories and facts, and reaches conclusions based solely on the evidence in hand.

Originally published in 1981, his book offers a vivid, edgy picture of the tensions that racked this country in the 1970s. However, the volume is not only an important historical document. Complex, fascinating characters populate this compelling insider's view of the nuclear industry. The issues it explores-whistle-blowers, worker safety, the environment, and nuclear vulnerability-have not lost relevance today, twenty-six years after Silkwood's white Honda Civic was found trapped in a concrete culvert near Oklahoma City. For this second edition, Rashke has added a preface and three short chapters that explore what has been learned about Silkwood since the book's original publication, explain what happened to the various actors in the drama, and discuss the long-term effects of the events around Silkwood's death.

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Tags: activist: karen silkwood, gay classics, queers in history

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