We know know that many hundreds of workers have inhaled radioactive plutonium-contaminated dust into their bodies due to negligence and/or incompetence
on the part of Bruce Power. That material will remain in their bodies for a long, long time, irradiating their tissues constantly -- even when they sleep.
In the press the word "plutonium" is not mentioned.
Instead, the phrase "alpha contamination" is used.
There are three principal types of atomic radiation,
called alpha, beta, and gamma.
Gamma is the most penetrating and the easiest to
measure; gamma rays are like x-rays, only more
energetic -- and therefore more damaging to living
Beta is much less penetrating; beta rays should
really be called beta particles, because they are in
fact very high-speed electrons -- like miniature bullets
-- that can only penetrate a short distance in living tissue.
Beta radiation is particularly dangerous when the beta-
emitting material has been ingested, inhaled, or
absorbed through the skin into the body.
Alpha is the least penetrating form of atomic radiation;
an alpha ray should really be called an alpha particle,
because it is an electrically charged particle travelling
extremely fast, about 8000 times heavier than a beta particle.
Alpha radiation cannot penetrate through a sheet of
paper or through the dead layer of skin on the outside
of our bodies. Hence alpha rays are harmless outside
But inside the body, alpha rays are far more dangerous
than beta rays or gamma rays. In fact the deadliest
radioactive materials in the 20th century have been
alpha emitters -- plutonium-239, radium-226, radon-222,
polonium-210 and uranium are all alpha-emitting
The "alpha contamination" mentioned in the following
article is mainly plutonium-contaminated dust that had
been deposited on the insides of the pipes leading
from the core of the reactor.
This same kind of plutonium dust accounts for 90 percent
of the mass of the radioactive materials inside the used
steam generators that Bruce Power wants to ship through
the Great Lakes to Sweden --
Lessons to be Learned from
Bruce Power Contamination
Workers may have long wait for results
Early testing indicates that while no workers will be adversely affected
from the alpha radiation contamination at Bruce Power, there are
lessons to be learned from the situation.
That point was hammered home by the president of the
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Michael Binder, at a
CNSC Public Hearing held in Ottawa Thursday morning.
Binder and the board questioned why Bruce Power would not have
learned from a similar situation that occurred at the
Point LePreau Nuclear Generating Station less than two years ago.
It also came out that as many as 583 people may have had contact
with alpha radiation in the vault of Bruce A, Unit 1. A total of 195 people
are being tested for alpha radiation contamination.
Bruce Power staff was on hand to ask the CNSC to give testing
accreditation to at least one American nuclear facility to speed up the
testing process. Right now, the only Canadian site qualified to test for
alpha radiation is in Chalk River – and the process is slow.
Representing Bruce Power at the hearing was Norm Sawyer, executive
vice-president of Bruce A; Frank Saunders, vice president of nuclear
oversight regulatory affairs; and Maureen McQueen, manager of
radiation protection programs.
The trio gave a report on the incident and received some tough
questions from the CNSC.
Bruce Power was monitoring for BETA radiation. The normal BETA to
alpha radiation count is 10,000 to 1. Tests revealed the level in Unit 1
was as high as 7 to 1. There was no monitoring of alpha radiation, as
the two are generally related. The unexpected high reading
understandably caused concern.
At Thursday’s hearing, Bruce Power execs vowed to implement better
monitoring devices and testing for its staff.
On Nov. 24, workers began preparing feeder tubes for a weld. The
workers were using negative suction (like a vacuum) to dispose of the
dust created by the cutting of the pipes. The pipes contained wet
contamination of loose particulate: so the area was tented. However,
particulate dust escaped the tent and affected the whole building.
Therefore, workers were contaminated on the way in and out of the
vault as they suited up and down.
Bruce Power officials explained the alpha radiation was unexpected.
No alpha radiation monitors were in use. They have since been
acquired and put into use at the plant.
Work in the vault ceased on Nov. 28, and has yet to restart.
Bruce Power sent the tests for 19 workers to the Chalk River testing
facility, and then broadened the net to see who else had been in
contact with the alpha radiation. As of Thursday, there were 195
workers with urine samples sent away for testing, a number that
Saunders called conservative.
Of those initial 19 directly affected, 14 results have come back in line
with the company’s prediction that they would be under the regulatory
limits of alpha radiation. The highest dosage was 20.6 mSv, while the
low dosage was 11.5 mSv.
The maximum dose acceptable for nuclear workers is 100 mSv
(10,000 mrem) over a five-year period, with no more than 50mSv in
any given year.
Alpha radiation cannot penetrate the skin, but may be dangerous if
inhaled or exposed to an open wound. It can cause radiation poisoning
and chromosome damage.
Sawyer told the CNSC that each worker that has been tested will be
met with one-on-one to discuss the results and how the testing was
done. He also mentioned that independent testing will be done to
give the workers peace of mind, which Bruce Power rep John Peevers
confirmed over the phone Thursday afternoon.
Binder said that while he is confident that no workers will be physically
harmed from the incident, there is still damage done from “perceived
radiation.” He urged Bruce Power to make the results of the testing
public as they come in through its website and the media, and is
looking forward to seeing a final report on the incident, which is due
to the CNSC in the next 45 days.