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Nuke’em Till They Glow – Quitting My First Job (steveblank.com)
146 points by jbyers on July 12, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

Very interesting. I remember hearing a story from someone that worked on a nuclear reactor on an aircraft carrier. They did the same radiation checks on the carrier, and it turned out that people out in the sun received more radiation than the people working inside on the reactor.

I'm an ex-Navy nuke (submarine officer), and this is very likely. A colleague of mine worked on a carrier. Because he was in the (nuclear) engineering department, he had to wear dosimetry no matter where he stood watch.

One month he stood watch in the engineroom in close proximity to the reactors (and shielding). The next month he stood watch on/around the bridge, far away from the reactor but in the sun.

His exposure from just being outside was noticeably higher than when he stood watch next to the reactor.

The OP received about 5 rems - equivalent to eating about 500 bananas (a BED of 500) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose

Why are you being upvoted?

From your link: "The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 3.6 millirems (36 μSv)."

500 bananas is 5 millirems. Try 500k.

My guess is that my recollection, connection, and linking to the concept of the BED is being upvoted more than my math abilities.

I think navy nuclear culture has changed quite a bit for the better since then. All of the officers and petty officers I have talked to are at least as conscious of rad safety as the civilian techs.

On the radiology and nuclear medicine side, air force and navy techs seem a lot more rad safety conscious than the army people I have met.

I read that in the exact opposite way.

Having whoever screwed up worst buy everyone else beer each week strikes me as a very good way to shame that person, and encourage people to try to avoid being that guy.

Yes, it is done in a joking manner, and it is accepted that everyone will be that guy some time. But I know how I'd react.

Sounds like something that I have seen/heard at a couple of dev shops. Break the build, buy doughnuts for your team. Not too expensive so as to ruin the person, but enough of a token that you think about what you're doing.

Another variation from http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html, item 3, break the build, it is now your job to shepherd the daily build until someone else breaks it.

That actually seems a lot more severe a form of punishment than buying donuts. Release management can be a full-time gig.

(Aside: how many articles was Joel planning on writing when he came up with that URL scheme? Crikey.)

That actually seems a lot more severe a form of punishment than buying donuts. Release management can be a full-time gig.

Some teams want everyone to be familiar with how they do it. If that is your goal, you have to pick the unlucky person in some way.

I've always been a bit bemused that any branches other than the Navy are operating reactors. At least, until there are nuclear aircraft and tanks!

Due to Idaho, I think the army may have the worst accidents per hours operating ratio.

For those who don't know, rdl is referencing the SL-1 accident (involving an Army operated research reactor in Idaho):


To this day it remains one of the worst reactor accidents, with design and operational mistakes on the scale of Chernobyl. It's enormously fortunate that the reactor was fairly small.

Not exactly -- the reactor did shut down "safely", just not fast enough to avoid a steam explosion. Chernobyl was dangerous because it had a positive "void coefficient": the more the coolant boils, the more reactive the core becomes. It's easy to see why this is a bad thing.

SL-1 had a negative void coefficient: as the coolant boils off, fewer neutrons are slowed down to speeds where they can be readily captured by fuel and the reaction slows down, creating a negative feedback loop. This type of passive safety is all but mandatory in modern reactor designs. SL-1 blew up because the feedback loop lagged behind the pressure buildup by a few milliseconds, and it spontaneously disassembled (kaboom). No meltdown, no china syndrome -- just a bunch of fuel all over the place and a guy impaled on the ceiling.

Knew a professor long ago who had worked for the AEC out on Long Island when a student. Some of the scientists would tune a cyclotron by putting an eye behind the target and waiting for the retina to light up, she said. She also said that a number had developed cataracts at an early age.

I worked at a nuclear plant during a college internship and can vouch for the strange attitude toward radiation exposure. There were guys who would work outages every year, receive their annual rad dose in a few months, and make enough money to take the rest of the year off. Then back next year to do it again. The max dose of 5 rem is about 20x the cosmic background - so 20 yrs of radiation in a year! I chose a different career soon after figuring that out.

It is all relative to where you are. People in Ramsar, Iran get a daily does of about 5 rems. See this paper http://www.jpands.org/vol13no2/luckey.pdf

Radiation can widely vary and very little is known about low dose radiation. The nuclear industry follows a rule called ALARA As Low As Reasonaobly Achievable which really just allows for these strict minimums. There is little proof that 5 rems will actually cause a higher probability of cancer.

you try fixing a sodium-iodide scintillation detector without a manual

More like, you try finding a sodium-iodide scintillation detector that HAS a manual!

Another great story, thanks for posting.

After having spent quite a few years around not so well funded labs I can assure you that any piece of equipment older than a decade that still posesses a manual is a rare sight indeed.

I always thought there must be some black market somewhere where someone is buying all these old manuals..... (visions of a wannabe Bond villain)

It's run by PHBs that get angry because your office is "messy" and "has too many things in it", I swear.


The '5 Rem per year' allowance was set on faulty logic. It is all based on the linear no-threshold theory which took the acute radiation exposures from the Nagasaki and Hiroshima detonations and linearly projected them down to such small amounts as 5 rem. This is in essence saying that if 100% of people would die from jumping of a 100 ft building then 1% of people would die from jumping off a 1 ft ledge.

Professor Emeritus Bernard L. Cohen of Pittsburgh University has a lot to say on the matter: http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/

Consider if we'd only ever seen one person jump from a building, but it was from 10,000 feet.

(Consider, also, that some might not find 'fall distance' a reasonable analog to radiation relative to other options like 'head trauma induced by soccer ball'.)

There have been extensive studies into radiation exposure. From Navy nukes to Japan's survivors (which are numerous), there's a ton of data but we are dealing with a hypothesis that cannot be proved one way or the other. Low dose radiation's effects appear to be negligible, but just in case we adhere to the linear no threshold theory. This is fine, except for when it is abused and cited to stop progress.

> This is fine, except for when it is abused and cited to stop progress.

This is a more reasonable stance than the blanket 'radiation regulation is silly', but I hesitate to award it too many points - it's hardly a big step to say you're against abuse and for progress. You can have progress and prevent abuse while adhering to (potentially overly) strict safety regulations.

(I may also balk at your stark claim of unverifiability - radiation damage is pretty demonstrable.)

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