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Power Plant Worker Accused of Spiking Cooler With Radioactive Water

March 5, 1990 GMT

SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick (AP) _ A nuclear power plant worker was charged Monday with spiking a lunchroom cooler with radioactive water that eight men drank before the contamination was discovered.

The eight who drank the contaminated water last month at the Point Lepreau plant have a slightly higher chance of getting cancer, officials said, but are in no immediate health danger.

Daniel George Maston, 33, assistant operator at the plant bordering Saint John, was arrested Sunday in the incident, which at least one power plant worker said appeared to be a practical joke gone awry.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police released few details of the investigation that led to Maston’s arrest.

During a court appearance Monday, Maston was charged with causing a noxious substance to be administered with intent to endanger lives or cause bodily harm. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

The contamination was discovered Feb. 22 during routine urine checks of plant employees.

Police officials said the day before, a glass of slightly radioactive heavy water was dumped into a 5.2-gallon cooler that provides water to a dispenser that mixes it into fruit juice.

Heavy water is used to cool the power plant’s reactor. It is not radioactive itself but the water is exposed to radioactivity from the plant’s uranium fuel rods.

Maston did not speak during his 10-minute appearance. Provincial court Judge Bill McCarroll ordered him held until he finds a lawyer and enters a plea Wednesday.

The courtroom was crowded with other workers from the nuclear power plant, but only one, Trent Lamb, spoke with reporters.

He described Maston as a ″quiet guy″ and said many Lepreau employees believe the water contamination was not malicious but a bad practical joke. Lamb was not among the eight who drank the tainted drink.

Maston does not work in the control room of the power plant, officials said. He has been an employee of Lepreau for several years.

Colin Nichols, president of the union that represents more than half the workers at Point Lepreau, refused to discuss Maston or the charge against him. But Nichols said the arrest has eased tensions.

″People are feeling a little more comfortable,″ said Nichols, head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2309. ″But there are still a whole lot of questions we all want answered about why someone would do this.″

The workers who drank the spiked juice, none of whom have been identified publicly, met Monday afternoon with a doctor who advises the Atomic Energy Control Board, which regulates the Canadian nuclear industry.

The doctor was brought in to answer the workers’ questions about their exposure, officials said.

One worker was exposed to almost four times what is considered the annual safe limit of radiation, officials said. The others received lesser exposures.

The annual limit of radiation for workers in the nuclear industry is set at 50 millisieverts. The average person is exposed to about three millisieverts a year, from the sun’s rays and uranium on Earth.

Under federal regulations, none of the eight will be allowed to work in areas of the generating station where they would be exposed to radiation for one year.

″Before, most people were very proud to say the worked at Lepreau but right now ... people are pointing fingers, making jokes about glowing in the dark,″ Nichols said. ″Our production record is world-class and all that goes out the window with this black mark.″