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Friday, February 3, 2012

Reed nuclear reactor doesn't get straight A's

Reed College's aging nuclear reactor keeps a-reactin' away, while federal regulators decide whether to renew its license. The "research" facility, which is right on campus next to the psychology building, is 43 years old.

Some inspectors from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- the Sergeant Schultzes of the atomic power industry -- visited the Reed facility in a routine visit in late November, and the inspection report is here. Apparently Reed passed, but there were a few items in the writeup that caught our eye. First, some possible corner-cutting on safety:

During the past several years the radiation protection duties at the facility were completed by various individuals who were Reed College part-time employees. They filled the position at the RRR facility designated as the Reactor Health Physicist (RHP). Recently, after discussions among Reed College management and staff, it was decided that the RHP position was not needed and that the College would be better served by having staff members and/or students complete the radiation protection duties at the RRR facility. Because the facility TS still required that there be an RHP on various committees, the Reactor Director was assigned as the interim RHP. Reed College management also decided that a Certified Health Physicist (CHP) would be retained once each year to conduct an audit of the campus radiation protection program. It was noted that the campus Environmental Director continued to fill both that position and the position of Radiation Safety Officer for the campus as well. The licensee was informed that the elimination of the facility RHP position, the completion of the RHP duties by staff members and/or students, and the completion of an annual audit of the radiation protection program by someone from outside the facility, such as a CHP, would be considered by the NRC as an Inspector Follow-up Item (IFI) and would be reviewed during a subsequent inspection (IFI 50-288/2011-203-01)....

Next, it was a relatively bad year for radiation exposure among the workers, most of whom are students:

The inspector determined that the licensee used optically stimulated luminescent (OSL) dosimeters for whole body monitoring of beta and gamma radiation exposure. The licensee also used thermoluminescent dosimeter (TLD) finger rings for monitoring beta and gamma radiation exposure of the extremities. The dosimetry was supplied and processed by a National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) accredited vendor (Landauer). An examination of the OSL and TLD results indicating radiological exposures at the facility for the past two years showed that the highest occupational doses, as well as doses to the public, were well within 10 CFR Part 20 limitations. The records showed that the highest annual whole body exposure received by a single individual for 2009 was 9 millirem deep dose equivalent (DDE). The highest annual extremity exposure for 2009 was 12 millirem shallow dose equivalent (SDE). The highest annual whole body exposure received by a single person for 2010 was 3 millirem DDE and the highest annual extremity exposure for that year was 40 millirem SDE. Through September 2011, the highest individual whole body exposure that had been received was 21 millirem DDE and the highest extremity exposure through September was 700 millirem SDE. The relatively high whole body and extremity doses received thus far in 2011 were received during the course of an experiment when the sample and sample holder were removed after a long irradiation and the aluminum sample holder was more radioactive than anticipated. The SOP has been revised as a result....

In reviewing the RWPs, it was noted that one had been used in connection with work involving the removal of a sample and sample holder from the Central Thimble (as noted above in Paragraph (2) above). After the RWP was used and the personnel dosimetry was processed for those involved in the work, the licensee discovered that one individual had received a dose to the extremities of 640 mr. Upon investigation the licensee determined that the sample and sample holder had been irradiated in the Central Thimble for an extended period and the person who removed the sample and holder probably did not take all the proper precautions during the work evolution. The inspector indicated that nonroutine jobs are often the ones that can lead to problems because the work evolution is not familiar and individuals may not complete the operation properly without extensive training and practice. This can be especially true with those jobs involving highly irradiated samples can. Through discussions it was agreed that such jobs should be reviewed not only by the Facility Director, but also by the Radiation Safety Committee. This would allow others to consider the work and through their collective expertise and experience, possibly determine better or more efficient ways to complete the job....

And despite the claims that the reactor makes little waste, Reed did in fact ship some radioactive waste out of the facility during the year:

Through records reviews and discussions with licensee personnel, the inspector determined that the licensee had completed various shipments of licensed material since the last inspection of transportation in December 2009. The licensee had completed one solid radioactive waste shipment to date in 2011. The necessary forms containing the appropriate information were completed as required. Appropriate procedures were in place for shipping various types of radioactive material.

It was noted that the licensee had also received a shipment of fuel and had completed a fuel shipment in 2011. These shipments were reviewed by the NRC and the results of these reviews were documented in Inspection Report Nos. 50-288/2011-201 and 50-288/2011-202 respectively. The inspector noted verified that the licensee individuals who were designated as “shippers” no longer worked at the facility. The licensee acknowledged that selected staff members would need to attend the appropriate training and become qualified to ship radioactive material....

Apparently, Reed's waste goes out on Woodstock, 82nd, and Foster to I-205, and then to I-84, finally ending up over at the Idaho National Lab waste dump.

Overall, it's not a pretty picture. Aging facilities, wholesale staff turnover, a layoff and job consolidations, student help, bad trends in radiation exposure... but you know what they say in the nuke industry: Nothing to see here, folks. We know more than you. And trust us, nothing can go wrong.

Comments (14)

Yes, but Renn-Faire is a whole lot more fun when you glow in the dark!

Speaking of college days, I thought it was symbolic that the San Onofre nuclear plant had problems this week too. I always got a kick out of swimming at the beach there partly because San Onofre was actually mentioned in the Beach Boys song "Surfin' USA."
I was shocked how cold the Pacific Ocean was compared to the Persian Gulf, but you got that same salty skin followed by beer and cheeseburgers in LA. Beautiful times. Livin' the dream.
Now we have stories of a worker falling in the reactor pool. Living the nightmare.

"Now we have stories of a worker falling in the reactor pool. Living the nightmare."

The guy got as much radiation as an x-ray.

Spent fuel pools are 40 feet deep or more. Every seven inches of water halves the amount of radiation received.

You'd have to dive a long ways down in the spent fuel pool to get a significant dose.

This is way over the heads of the Fed "Nuculers" and we must call for an investigation by the IAEA. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano is committed to intensifying dialogue and Nothing will be wrong.

Maybe we can use the stuff to re-invigorate Greg Oden's knees. He's done for good this time... please whip out the Oden-Meter, Professor!

The article I read said that the pool was 20 feet deep. Said he fell in while attempting to retrieve a flashlight, but he was wearing a life vest. So it's all good. Don't they have lights in those places?

Falling in the pool was not the problem. It was the leaking pipe that caused the plant to shut down. Shut down? Wasn't that also a Beach Boys song?

The reactor, as I remember was in a hole on the floor, just down from the COKE machine around 1975.
Me thinks this baby is a lot older than 1975.

But hey, that might make it a historic landmark, someone call city hall.

Jack - the radioactive waste reffered to, is probably sealed sources used for standardized testing and calibration, which after it's useful life must be disposed of. Co-57 a standard used frequently by medical facilities, and in Medical health physics, has an 18 month half life, and must be replaced every 18-24 months, there are any number of sealed sources, types used daily for industry, and medical use. Nothing in the report seems out of the ordinary for ANY medical facility, let alone a university setting. For goodness sake we ship thing "Dangerous Goods" Fedex everyday including radioactive materials.

Was just coming by to post about Hanford and here you are, all curled up with the issue... You Rock Jack!

Is there any 'shima' on the Reed campus?

Nothing in the report seems out of the ordinary for ANY medical facility, let alone a university setting.

Mark, nuclear toad, it's not a medical facility. It's Reed. Please, go back to your dirty little nuclear business and stop trying to confuse matters here. It isn't working.

Then, what isotopes, and waste, was shipped?

You should ask Reed that question, if you're really interested. See if they'll tell you.

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