We asked Keith Ferdinando, a teammate at Brunswick Nuclear Plant to sit down with us and share a few insights into his role as a radiation protection technician.
Q. They say security is tough at nuclear power plants. What type of security do you go through to get to the plant?
I have to drive through a security checkpoint and go through personnel security to access the plant. Security at the plant is rigorous; I place my items through an X-ray machine, submit to explosive and metal detectors, scan my hand and process through metal turnstiles - all part of my daily routine.
Q. What is a radiation protection technician? What exactly do you do?
As a radiation protection technician at Brunswick Nuclear Plant, it is my responsibility to help limit site teammates' radiological exposure, or as we call it, "dose."
I'm almost like a police officer; I work to protect people in the plant from radiation. Radiation is an interesting thing; you can't see it. I have to use my knowledge and equipment to help me locate it as well as brainstorm ways to reduce employees' exposure.
Q. How do you monitor radiation in the plant?
I log on to my remote radiological monitoring system on my computer. We have remote monitors throughout the site's radiological areas which ensure radiological levels stay normal. These machines are extremely helpful because not only will they alert us if the radiation level exceeds a specific set point, but they also let us know the radiation level of an area before we go in.
I also perform surveys of radiological areas where teammates need to work. The surveys I conduct help determine the dose estimate for each job, but it is also a chance for me to reduce radiation levels if necessary in any particular area.
Q. How do you reduce radiation levels in the plant?
We have a couple of options. I can reduce radiation levels in areas by working with Operations to flush pipes that may have contamination buildup or by ordering lead shielding blankets to be placed on the pipes. We have a new type of shielding that contains tungsten and will stick to the pipes through magnetism.
Q. "Tungsten shielding" sounds pretty high-tech. What role does technology play in helping you limit the site's radiation exposure?
Technology is extremely helpful in reducing radiological exposure on site. We recently purchased iRobot, a mobile robot with cameras and a gripper arm, to go into areas with high radiation levels and extreme conditions. The robot can even climb stairs! Instead of sending a teammate into those areas, we can send iRobot.
Q. Does Apple make iRobot?
<Slight pause> No.
Q. What type of clothing do you wear when you go into radiological areas?
I have to dress in anti-contamination clothing, which is made of plastic, rubber and Orex, a unique water-resistant material. I also wear small dosimeters around my neck that not only read how much radiation I'm receiving, but also the rate at which I am receiving it.
Q. What is the biggest challenge in your day-to-day?
When giving dose estimates for a job, I use historical dose information when evaluating expected exposure during work activities. We do a lot of tasks that we haven't done before, so those are difficult to estimate.
I have a lot of experience, but I'm learning every day.