Quantum and Nuclear

The radioactive nuclear plant worker

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19 IOP RESOURCES

The need for monitoring of radon gas in homes in some areas was highlighted by a chance discovery. In 1984, Stanley Watras, a worker at Limerick nuclear power plant in Pottstown, Pennsylvania triggered an alarm in a routine radiation screening process at the facility. As fission had not yet been initiated at the plant, the alarm was not seen as significant. Curious, Watras decided to go through the radiation monitoring station on his way in to work and found that his higher-than-expected level of radiation persisted. The result triggered an investigation which discovered high levels of alpha radiation in his home. The radiation levels in the Watras’ house exceeded the permitted dose for uranium miners by a factor of a hundred and the source of the radiation was traced to radon gas released from uranium-rich granite rocks in the area. The level of radiation was the highest ever recorded for a domestic building and is equivalent to the harmful effects of smoking 135 packs of cigarettes a day.



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