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glow boys, nuclear janitors dying for a living
March 31, 2011 3:20 PM   Subscribe


 
Interesting post. These guys are still much cheaper than robots.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:29 PM on March 31, 2011


Cheaper for who?
posted by Felex at 3:32 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The invisible hand of the labour market provides a remarkable amount of radiation protection.

Wait, I meant it provides no protection.
posted by GuyZero at 3:41 PM on March 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


Jumpers get a good dose,” said Nielsen. “We get more than anybody.”Nevertheless, he said it is only the new guys who worry about it. Nielsen, who is 58, used to add to their fright by telling them, “I’ve been doing this three years, and there’s nothing wrong with me. And I’m 25 years old.” Eventually he was told, “Stop that! You’re scaring the kids!”

Well, if you can't laugh about your radiation exposure, what can you laugh at?
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:48 PM on March 31, 2011 [24 favorites]


nobody else thinks this is a cool job, huh.
posted by wayofthedodo at 3:50 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know this is probably not the intended response, but I read the articles and thought, "That sounds like fun, in a sick kind of way," and then spent a bunch of time going through job listings and other chatter on the NukeWorker forums from the second link.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:53 PM on March 31, 2011


Actually, I would totally do it, but I am a little bit chicken-shit and would really feel bad if I got leukemia 20 years later or something. Maybe if there was more money.

But you get to see inside a nuclear reactor, which is pretty cool.
posted by GuyZero at 3:53 PM on March 31, 2011


Well, if you can't laugh about your radiation exposure, what can you laugh at?

A case of malignant leukemia. :)
posted by kurosawa's pal at 3:54 PM on March 31, 2011


Not the same, but I was once a nuclear janitor myself...
posted by COBRA! at 3:56 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


On the plus side, you could get 36 DYI X-rays for the price of a roll of film.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:00 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with those yellow jumpsuits they have to wear? I mean, why can't they get protective uniforms that actually protect them? They could use a breathing apparatus, some thicker lining, something like that, couldn't they?
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:02 PM on March 31, 2011


Calls to mind the old SNL skit The Pepsi Syndrome, aka "Two Mile Island," with Garret Morris as the irradiated cleaning woman Violet and Dan Akroyd as the very hands-on president Jimmy Carter.
posted by mosk at 4:29 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anti-contamination clothing (the yellow jumpsuits) isn't there to protect workers from external radiation (e.g. from standing next to a pile of spent fuel). There's really no such thing as a practical "radiation suit;" to cut your exposure rate from gamma radiation in half, you'd have to wear 1/2-inch-thick lead plate mail.

Instead, they're meant to keep radioactive contamination off workers' skin and clothing (e.g. from walking around cleaning up the Ferreiras' house in Goiânia). They're sometimes worn with breathing protection (filtered or air-fed), depending on the level of airborne contamination.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:51 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is nuts; just thinking about it makes me feel queasy, and the ethical questions it raises are many.

I'm guessing there is a waiver these workers are required to sign--to protect from lawsuits. But presumably (hopefully) routine medical examinations are also paid for.

Anyone know how much these folks are paid, since I believe the $85 per diem just refers to reimbursed expenses (lodging, meals) and not salary?

Fwiw, the qualifications are not insubstantial:
Must have expertise in the principles of nuclear physics and be able to read process and equipment drawings. Must be able to act as liaison and represent the criticality safety organization by advising management on criticality safety issues by meeting with operations, engineering, and projects personnel to provide workable solutions to meet applicable DOE and industry standard requirements. Minimum Qualification Requirements (Education and/or Experience):B. S. in Engineering and 5 years of applicable experience or M.S. in Engineering and 3 years of applicable experience required
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 4:55 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had heard on CNN that the guys that take 15 minute shifts at the hottest parts of Fukushima are getting $5000 an hour. Did I mishear this?
posted by Splunge at 4:56 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Im with ya wayofthedodo, its difficult for me to see any one time, potentially deadly, reasonably lucrative jobs and not want to give them a go. One day this may cause problems, however as long as my protective laziness is in place that day will not be soon.
posted by fido~depravo at 4:58 PM on March 31, 2011


I'm surprised Mike Rowe hasn't been called yet.
posted by Mooski at 5:00 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anyone know how much these folks are paid, since I believe the $85 per diem just refers to reimbursed expenses (lodging, meals) and not salary?

That posting is for a Criticality Safety Engineer, not a jumper.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:00 PM on March 31, 2011


That posting is for a Criticality Safety Engineer, not a jumper.

Thanks for the clarification; it's a bit unclear from the links and the FPP; I assumed the latter term was simply a euphemism for the former more technical term. Still a bit curious what "jumpers" are making, if anyone knows.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 5:05 PM on March 31, 2011


Also, if you were wearing a suit of lead plate mail, it might stop some of the gamma, but the X-rays from all those beta particles stopping cold would kind of suck.

If the implications of this put you off your feed, how do you feel about the guys who fix the highway? About a hundred of them get killed - as in all the way dead right now, not "may someday get cancer" - a year. If sending someone into a hot zone near a reactor for $5000 an hour makes you queasy, having guys stand around on the road should make you vomit.

But it doesn't because we're incredibly cavalier about the things we think we know, and grossly over estimate the risk of the stuff we don't.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:09 PM on March 31, 2011 [16 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne I think you got that backwards - lead will stop X-rays pretty effectively, but gammas can go quite the distance.
posted by Dmenet at 5:18 PM on March 31, 2011


I rented an old house, a long time ago. There was a bathroom on the second floor and one winter the plumbing broke, spilling all the waste products onto a back porch for months (we just never went onto the back porch during the winter). Spring came, and we started to notice the problem, quite a bit. The landlord found a young Mexican fellow who was willing to work at a small price, cleaning up months of our shit. I felt bad for the guy, but there was no way I would do it.

I don't know why I bring this up now. It just seems relevant.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:22 PM on March 31, 2011


Kid Charlemagne I think you got that backwards - lead will stop X-rays pretty effectively, but gammas can go quite the distance.

He's referring to Bremsstrahlung radiation, initiated within the shielding. You'd have to augment your lead shield with a thick plastic overcoat.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:23 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


we're incredibly cavalier about the things we think we know, and grossly over estimate the risk of the stuff we don't.

Way to make a mountain out of the molehill that i wrote. I forgot that on metafilter often the least generous interpretation is given to any comments on the dangers of nuclear power, and that often one's comments are twisted in an ideological way. Yes there are lots of dangerous jobs: just b/c I did not point that out does not mean I'm not aware of it.

Cleaning up nuclear leaks is dangerous; working highways is dangerous; to put together an accurate statistical list of dangerous jobs would be a difficult task, and given the fact that nuclear emergencies are so irregular it might not be terribly useful anyway. But guess what? Admitting I was queasy at the thought of cleaning up a leaking nuclear plant was not meant as a comment about the relative dangers of nuclear power, anymore than a comment like "I like hotdogs" is a condemnation of hamburgers. After all, no one is denying radiation is dangerous, or that road workers die.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 5:34 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow! This is cool--when will the company that produces Ice Road Truckers and Dangerous Catch do a series with these guys?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:35 PM on March 31, 2011


This makes me wonder if there is a category of "suicide jobs" out there where mortality is openly assumed and the pay is commensurate. Not like soldiers, or even coal miners, but openly, flat-out 100% lethal jobs with death benefit payments factored right in. I'd Google it, but I'm not sure how much human misery I can take tonight.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:36 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I had heard on CNN that the guys that take 15 minute shifts at the hottest parts of Fukushima are getting $5000 an hour. Did I mishear this?

If they can only work a 15 minute shift once a week, that will end up as considerably less money than it first seems.
posted by ardgedee at 6:11 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had heard on CNN that the guys that take 15 minute shifts at the hottest parts of Fukushima are getting $5000 an hour. Did I mishear this?

As with all Western media reports about Japan, this is incorrect. There is an unconfirmed report that TEPCO is offering to pay fresh workers 400,000 yen per day to help with cleanup at Fukushima No. 1.

Incidentally, TEPCO's base salary for new graduates (in Japanese, at the bottom of the page) starts at 160-240,000 yen per month -- including those chosen to work at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
posted by armage at 6:13 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This makes me wonder if there is a category of "suicide jobs" out there where mortality is openly assumed and the pay is commensurate.

Recently on the blue... somewhat similar. The pay was non-monetary. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 6:13 PM on March 31, 2011


Maybe I just have a stronger stomach but if the idea of someone doing a dangerous job makes you physically ill, that seems like an over the top amount of dread to me.

I don't work with radiation (well, there's the sugar bowl in the kitchen) or really care much one way or the other. But, well, take my job. A while back there was this sudden push of new safety rules. I'm not sure why, since there were no major incidents leading up to it.

What was our biggest cause of acute injury prior to this big push? Trips and falls.
What got scads of concern? That we wore lab coats whenever we were in the lab.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:19 PM on March 31, 2011


This makes me wonder if there is a category of "suicide jobs" out there where mortality is openly assumed and the pay is commensurate.

Virgins?
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:22 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This makes me wonder if there is a category of "suicide jobs" out there where mortality is openly assumed and the pay is commensurate.

I did my riggers course in 2004 with a guy who was looking to go to Iraq to errect and repair electrical transmission towers (he was already in the industry). He was talking of US$500,000 (tax free) per year, not bad for a guy in his early twenties with nothing more than a few industry licences.

Of course, he was also looking at a moderate chance of dying, between the hazards of working with heights and electrical transmission in a country at war and just the whole getting shot thing. He thought it was worth the risk.

/derail
posted by deadwax at 6:41 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


if there is a category of "suicide jobs" out there where mortality is openly assumed and the pay is commensurate

Oddly enough, I reckon probably not. Even at the high end of risk, skills are still pretty important. I was talking to a former Para* the other day. He's working, but was considering a £12k a month private security job in Afghanistan. I guess you'd call that a suicide job, 'cause people can't dodge bullets any better than they can radiation, but they wouldn't pay me to do it, no matter how much I wanted to die. People generally pay for the skill, not the desperation.

* member of the Parachute Regiment
posted by howfar at 6:45 PM on March 31, 2011


Yeah, just the same story as deadwax really, just a bit late
posted by howfar at 6:48 PM on March 31, 2011


At the exchange rate right now:
160,000 to 240,000 yen per month = 1,941 to 2,912 dollars per month
posted by Babblesort at 6:54 PM on March 31, 2011


Strangely enough there's a (fictional) portrayal of this job (in the future) in episode 6 of the second season of the Ghost in the Shell anime. Which is currently able to be streamed on Netflix. It even shows the use of cheap ethically questionable labor to clean out a de-commissioned Japanese reactor.
posted by JackarypQQ at 6:55 PM on March 31, 2011


This makes me wonder if there is a category of "suicide jobs" out there where mortality is openly assumed and the pay is commensurate

One of the tip-offs is what's covered by the medical and liability plans. Firefighters in my area are completely covered for any incidence of cancer for their whole lives, for example.
posted by bonehead at 7:08 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's really no such thing as a practical "radiation suit;" to cut your exposure rate from gamma radiation in half, you'd have to wear 1/2-inch-thick lead plate mail.

Which would slow you down; you'd be exposed for more than twice as long ...
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:47 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder how they're using those robots.
posted by delmoi at 7:54 PM on March 31, 2011


the ones iRobot sent over.
posted by delmoi at 7:54 PM on March 31, 2011


The pay rate at Three Mile Island in 1979 post accident was $7.00/hour and $30.00/perdiem.

Three Mile Island was a walk in the park compared to what is going on with the six reactors in Japan right now. I don't know why you bothered to post that.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:04 PM on March 31, 2011


The pay rate at Three Mile Island in 1979 post accident was $7.00/hour and $30.00/perdiem.

Three Mile Island was a walk in the park compared to what is going on with the six reactors in Japan right now. I don't know why you bothered to post that.


It was the only pay scale I found on the web for jumpers, a salary for risking one's life cleaning up any kind of radiation mess. Even in 1979 at the much less dangerous job at three Mile Island, it still seems incredibly low pay doing such a job.

However it does look like being a jumper is a job that still exists. If the Fukushima disaster takes 30 years to clean up, as some have predicted, there may end up being a lot of jumpers who go there.
posted by nickyskye at 9:24 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


It really does take a worried man...
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:22 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I lived with deep-sea underwater-welders who explored the frozen Beaufort Sea back when Three Mile Island was a "thing", RobotVoodooPower, and I can guaranfrikkentee you that those guys earned in a shift what those 3MI workers made in a month. So, yes, it is relevant.

Thanks for these links, nicky. The presentation was quite sublime.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:27 PM on March 31, 2011


Interesting story, I hope. Not too long ago, maybe 5 years, I was talking to an older fellow in a local bar. Turns out that he was a guy in a tank. An army tank. I don't recall the particulars of the hardware, but his job got interesting in the very early 1950s. It seems that his tank was involved in a nuclear bomb test.

From how he told it, and what I recall, (remember we were drinking) it was thus.

He and his crew were rather close to what he was told would be "a small atomic bomb". So he was in his tank with two other guys. they were wearing regular uniforms and goggles.

They were right outside on flat ground.

Now this could be anyone talking shit in a bar. But the way he described it was very visceral.

He said that there was a thud that hit him in the chest like a bomb, right through the walls. And then the tank. A tank that he thought was the heaviest thing that he could imagine started to lift from the front, from the FRONT he said.

And almost turned over on its back.

He was amazed. He said tanks don't turn over. They just don't. They bog down. They blow up. But nothing lifts them up and trys to turn them over. Not anything that doesn't tear them open he said.

He told me that that feeling of Oh shit, here we go was one of the most frightening things that he ever felt.

So I'm guessing that the only reason that this old guy was still alive was that he had a couple of inches of steel protecting him from any radiation or thermal flash burns.

But the shockwave lifted his tank up.

Fuck.

He didn't buy another round the rest of the evening. Yes I believe his story. Because he said that all the viewports were welded shut. And there was no access to the usual external views.

Then they had to stay put until they were allowed out of the tank. And the debreifing took hours before he could get a meal and a beer.
posted by Splunge at 10:48 PM on March 31, 2011


The Emperor of Ice Cream writes "Cleaning up nuclear leaks is dangerous; working highways is dangerous; to put together an accurate statistical list of dangerous jobs would be a difficult task, and given the fact that nuclear emergencies are so irregular it might not be terribly useful anyway. But guess what? Admitting I was queasy at the thought of cleaning up a leaking nuclear plant was not meant as a comment about the relative dangers of nuclear power, anymore than a comment like 'I like hotdogs' is a condemnation of hamburgers. After all, no one is denying radiation is dangerous, or that road workers die."

It's not all that difficult, pretty well any department of labour will tell you what the most dangerous jobs are and they pretty well all involve heavy labour in remote locations. So logging, farming, fishing, and forest fire fighting generally lead the top ten. Falling trees is just crazy dangerous.

It's Raining Florence Henderson writes "This makes me wonder if there is a category of 'suicide jobs' out there where mortality is openly assumed and the pay is commensurate. Not like soldiers, or even coal miners, but openly, flat-out 100% lethal jobs with death benefit payments factored right in. I'd Google it, but I'm not sure how much human misery I can take tonight."

Because the cancer that asbestos gives you usually takes 10-20 years to show itself many guys working asbestos abatement are in their 60s and even 70s.
posted by Mitheral at 10:52 PM on March 31, 2011


I knew a guy who worked some kind of seasonal Nuclear Power Plant maintenance job. He was a pretty insufferable guy and if he wasn't such a good, fast carpenter I never would have hired him. He was the kind of guy who, in any conversation, was right and if he wasn't right then the conversation was not worth having.

His stories about the safety precautions and procedures, just for maintenance workers, the tedious care undertaken at every step, the flat-out boring conscientiousness of the whole affair, really made me think twice about my innate distrust of nuclear power. Of course, he would not work with the two women on the crew (because they were women, not because he thought they couldn't work well, but because they were women - we made that mistake once and the level of abuse he dished out was both remarkable and sad) but when he decided he liked working with this one other guy he made a point of taking his shirt off whenever they were working together. Complicated, unhappy guy.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:47 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised Mike Rowe hasn't been called yet.

Its Dirty Jobs...not DEATH jobs.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:28 AM on April 1, 2011


The invisible hand of the labour market provides a remarkable amount of radiation protection.
Wait, I meant it provides no protection.


No protection is a remarkable amount of radiation protection. It's all of a piece, though - Invisible Hand, invisible hazard, invisible amount of protection.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:41 AM on April 1, 2011


I spent a year as an intern at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the subject of the Ms. Galassi's article. The basic premise of the article, that the jumpers are doing jobs that nobody else wants to do, misses some of the nuance. The regular plant operations staff can get exposed to low levels of radiation all year long. During plant refueling outages and annual maintenance such as the nozzle dam installation mentioned above, the plant operations crews are the last picked to do these jobs because they are likely to be closer to their annual dose limits than outside contractors such as jumpers. They need to be available in case they have to do some specialized job which would expose them to further radiation.

For scheduled outages, the office personnel often volunteer to be jumpers. I remember the Plant Manager Dave Oatley mentioning that he had been a jumper that year because he normally got no dose and had plenty in his annual allowance to spare. Sometimes the admin staff such as department secretaries would volunteer as well. I never did it myself, but I got the impression that they would have to rehearse their specific task numerous times over a few weeks to minimize the risk of error.

Keep in mind that these tasks that jumpers do are the ones requiring no specialized knowledge, basically unskilled labor. One jumper's job might be to jump in, turn bolts for 5 minutes, and jump out. Anything requiring specialized plant knowledge or training would have to be done by the regular operations crews.

The Veta Christy article about jumpers going from plant to plant and soaking up excess dose is something that I did hear about at the plant. One of the old-timers said that people used to do that until the NRC cracked down on it. Probably in the 20 years between that article and my time there the NRC found a way to track the exposure of temporary workers.
posted by zompus at 9:33 AM on April 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Amazing comment. Thanks zompus.
posted by nickyskye at 10:05 AM on April 1, 2011


Hot off the press: 'Jumpers' offered big money to brave nuke work
posted by nickyskye at 1:41 PM on April 1, 2011


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