Karen Gay Silkwood (February 19, 1946 – November 13, 1974) was an American labor union activist and chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma, United States. Silkwood's job was making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. She died under mysterious circumstances after investigating claims of irregularities and wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plant.
Silkwood was born in Longview, Texas, the daughter of Merle and William Silkwood, and raised in Nederland, Texas. She attended Lamar State College in Beaumont, Texas. In 1965, she married oil pipeline worker William Meadows with whom she had three children. Silkwood left her husband in 1972 and moved to Oklahoma City where she briefly worked as a hospital clerk.
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.:19-23