Thursday, January 21, 2010

Daily Kos Diarist Tells What Life is Like Working in a Nuclear Plant

Blubba, an occasional contributor at Daily Kos, began an entertaining series of posts describing the unique experiences that occur at a nuclear plant. Story #4, my favorite, highlights the interesting situations nuclear workers can find themselves in when changing in and out of anti-contamination suits (aka Anti-C):

Around 1987, just a few years out of college, I was given the job of Containment Coordinator for the annual refueling outage at the Acme Nuclear Plant. It was not a well defined job but basically entailed troubleshooting, making sure electrical cords and air hoses were secured and not posing a tripping hazard and making sure everyone was wearing their hard hats and obeying the safety rules. If a worker needed a wrench and nobody else was around I fetched it. I did whatever needed doing to keep things running safely and smoothly. So I became very proficient at dressing in and out. One day the site VP stopped by and asked that I take him on an inspection tour inside, which went well. We had exited containment and were in an area marked off with stanchions and rope where the radiation techs had laid down disposable plastic sheeting to catch any loose contamination. We had shed most of our Anti-C garb except for the shoe covers and cotton glove liners and were waiting our turn to get to the "step off pad", an area with the floor space of a telephone booth (remember those?) where we would take them off and step back into the clean. And so it was that the Site VP and I were standing in our underwear when the delegation of state legislators arrived. I need to explain two things. First, during refueling outages we frequently gave tours to officials to let them see the plant first hand, answer questions, dispel any misconceptions they had about nuclear power and generally show we had nothing to hide. The highlight of the tour was a trip to the refueling floor where they could see fuel that had been taken out of the reactor that glowed blue from the Cerenkov radiation (very cool!). The tour had to pass by the entrance to the containment to get to the elevator. The other thing I need to mention is that the hospital scrubs (called "modesty garments" in the nuclear industry) were not issued to us until about 1990 or so. Before then workers were required to strip down to their skivvies, shoes and socks before donning the Anti-Cs at a dress out area about 30 yards from the containment entrance. So the area looked like one big locker room during outages.

You can tell a lot about a man from the underwear he wears. Things you could do without knowing. I saw everything from raggedy underpants that should have been retired long ago to racy little leopard print numbers.

A few of the members of the tour recognized the VP and waved. He waved back. I was standing next to him, both of us in our tighty whities. One of the legislators or their aids was a middle-aged woman who was trying hard not to let on that anything strange was going on. But yes, it felt strange. I am now a boxer man.

Hilarious, looking forward to the next post!

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