Nuclear Safety

This story caught my eye because I’m a nurse now, but years ago worked as a motel maid. I can easily imagine a pregnant, minimum-wage worker making beds or sorting laundry in a motel, with no one aware there might be a hazard. Here’s from Associated Press…

WASHINGTON – Reports of thyroid cancer patients setting off radiation alarms and contaminating hotel rooms are prompting the agency in charge of nuclear safety to consider tighter rules.
A congressional investigation made public Wednesday found that patients sent home after treatment with radioactive iodine have contaminated unsuspecting hotel guests and set off alarms on public transportation.
They’ve come into close contact with vulnerable people, including pregnant women and children, and trash from their homes has triggered radiation detectors at landfills.

My objection to nuclear power is that radioactive material causes cancer and birth defects, is difficult to detect, is lethal in tiny amounts and stays around forever. Radioactive iodine is an old treatment, and patients used to stay in the hospital long enough for the radioactive elements to wash out of their system. But now we kick people out of the hospital asap, and no one was considering the danger to the public.

• A patient who had received a dose of radioactive iodine boarded a bus in New York the same day, triggering radiation detectors as the bus passed through the Lincoln Tunnel heading for Atlantic City, N.J., a casino Mecca. After New Jersey state police found the bus and pulled it over, officers determined that the patient had received medical instructions to avoid public transportation for two days, and ignored them. The 2003 case highlighted that NRC rules don’t require patients to stay off public transportation.

• About 7 percent of outpatients said in the survey they had gone directly to a hotel after their treatment, most of them with their doctors’ knowledge. Hotel stays are a particular concern, since the patient can expose other guests and service workers. In 2007, an Illinois hotel was contaminated after linens from a patient’s room were washed together with other bedding. The incident would probably have gone unreported but for nuclear plant workers who later stayed in the same hotel and set off radiation alarms when they reported to work.

That is terrifying. The nuclear plant workers stayed in a hotel where a patient had stayed, maybe slept on sheets that were washed in the same washer with the patient’s sheets, and they set off alarms. What about the maid who stripped the bed? What about the laundry workers? What about other guests in the hotel?

One thing to learn from this is that financial pressure to discharge people from hospitals as soon as they are medically stable has to be countered by a consideration for what happens in the real world.

Another thing to consider is that it’s human nature to cut corners and do the expedient thing. Radioactive material is long-lived, and unforgiving. Despite all the assurances that nuclear power will always be handled safely, mistakes will be made and humans will make errors. This stuff is too dangerous to be an answer to our energy needs.

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11 thoughts on “Nuclear Safety

  1. So what do you propose,dried cow dung?
    I know you would just love it if wind and solar power could do the trick,but it can’t.
    You take a situation like this and extrapolate it all the way out to the worst case scenario.
    Maybe a longer hospital stayis a good idea,but we really do need to use nuclear power.
    Just think of all the nuclear powered naval vessels and powerplants operating now.
    There have been THREE major incidents in all those eyars-3 Mile Island,which killed no one;and the sinking of the “Kursk”,and of course Cernobyl.Only the latter killed a lot of people and devastated a wide area.
    Did you ever hear of Texas City,or Peshtigo,or Halifax,or the release of insecticide in India?All of those disasters involved conventiional means of destruction,Peshtigo being a forest fire(I don’t know if it was manmade or not)and thousands of people were killed in those incidents.
    Nuclear pwer is okay if corner cutting is eliminated and safety standards enforced.
    I have no problem with strict regulation in that industry,anymore than I do with the food industry.
    My father in law had radioactive implants and he also has Alzheimer’s,so he couldn’t really follow directions too well.Other people had to make sure he didn’t contact children or pregnant women.
    I had high dosage radiation therapy thirty years ago and a lot of my friends thought I was radioactive-lots of “glow in the dark” jokes.However,since I got external beam therapy,I wasn’t radioactive at all.

  2. Just an example of human short-sightedness. That doesn’t change. I don’t have your trust that energy corporations will always put safety first and that dangerous nuclear waste can be handed down to future generations with no consequences.

  3. and another thing– motel maids are not disposable people. if there was enough radioactivity to show up on a meter on men who slept on sheets put in a washer with the thyroid patient’s sheets– even after they got up, showered, got dressed and drove to work– think about the maid who stripped the bed and the laundry workers.
    i’ve done both those jobs. you think they even have health insurance or that anyone will know or care if they have a problem that will show up years later? some of these workers might have been pregnant, some might have gone home to their small children with contamination on their uniforms and no way of knowing that.
    this is reality.

    • When did I ever even remotely infer that people working at low paying jobs were disposable?My son used to clean machinery at a factory and what I saw on his work clothes looked like PCB’s.You think I consider my son disposable?Seriously?
      I was laid low by Agent Orange-I had the stuff all over me some days,but I figured -hey,it’s just defoliant,what the hell.
      That’s why young guys go to the wars-we’re thinking about other stuff.

  4. This is indeed scary. And to the question of whether they stay in the hospital longer and this will be safer — what about the hospital staff and all the people in the hospital — how are they kept safe from the radioactive iodine?

    • Like the people who administered my radiation therapy-lead lined protective gear,particularly in sensitive areas.
      I did have concerns about one of my techs who was pregnant.

      • That’s decent of you. I hope her employers were using the best protection. Radiation is the best way we have to fight many cancers, I hope in the future there will be better ways. Good luck with your health, you do what you have to do to get well.

  5. It’s a treatment that’s been used for a long time and there are safeguards in place for hospital workers. They know what they are dealing with and can use precautions.
    I think that no one considered what would happen when hospital stays shortened and people went out into the real world where there’s no supervision.
    It’s a gap in foresight, becauase people make errors of omission and there’s economic pressure to move the patients through fast.
    Radiation therapy saves lives. The risks can be managed. I posted this because it’s an example of systems failure and I think that systems failures also occur in nuclear
    power plants where the exposure can be much more widespread. That’s one reason why private insurance considers them a bad risk unless the taxpayers bear the liability.

  6. Nancy-haha-I just had 4 1/2 hours of surgery to remove radiation scarring,adhesions,and to repair an incisional hernia from that cancer treatment way back when,but I’m above ground,so I guess that’s not so bad.
    The highly toxic chemo they used in those days would’ve left me with worse consequences,so I think I’m ahead of the game.
    I just can’t lift anything heavier than 15 pounds permanently-a bummer for sure.

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