Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power News

Site of 1976 "Atomic Man" Accident To Be Cleaned 299

Posted by samzenpus
from the power-up dept.
mdsolar writes with news about the cleanup of the site that exposed Harold McCluskey to the highest dose of radiation from americium ever recorded. Workers are finally preparing to enter one of the most dangerous rooms in the world — the site of a 1976 blast in the United States that exposed a technician to a massive dose of radiation and led to his nickname: the "Atomic Man." Harold McCluskey, then 64, was working in the room at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation when a chemical reaction caused a glass glove box to explode. He was exposed to the highest dose of radiation from the chemical element americium ever recorded — 500 times the occupational standard. Hanford, located in central Washington state, made plutonium for nuclear weapons for decades. The room was used to recover radioactive americium, a byproduct of plutonium. Covered with blood, McCluskey was dragged from the room and put into an ambulance headed for the decontamination center. Because he was too hot to handle, he was removed by remote control and transported to a steel-and-concrete isolation tank. During the next five months, doctors laboriously extracted tiny bits of glass and razor-sharp pieces of metal embedded in his skin. Nurses scrubbed him down three times a day and shaved every inch of his body every day. The radioactive bathwater and thousands of towels became nuclear waste.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Site of 1976 "Atomic Man" Accident To Be Cleaned

Comments Filter:
  • David Hahn (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @05:51AM (#47374631)

    Funny, I would have thought 'the radioactive boy scout' [wikipedia.org] would have had the most exposure to americium (stockpiled from smoke detectors). His house needed a similar clean up after.

    • Re:David Hahn (Score:5, Informative)

      by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @07:45AM (#47374949)

      The clean-up was less due to the severe amount of radioactivity and more due to the fact that he was careless and got it everywhere.

      The total amount of radioactive material was small and the actual dose of radiation he was exposed to was probably minimal. Although the exact dose isn't known because he never completely revealed his experiments and he never underwent testing.

      One thing I find interesting is that he was arrested again in 2007 on charges related to stealing smoke detectors for their Americium, 13 years after his boy scout experiments.

  • Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @05:56AM (#47374641)

    Because he was too hot to handle, he was removed by remote control and transported to a steel-and-concrete isolation tank.

    If they had the tech to do all that remotely, then why didn't they just handle the americium remotely?

    I know, I know. Just a thought that popped into my head.

    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @06:14AM (#47374671)

      That doesn't seem to be accurate; the local newspaper describes a fellow technician who dragged him out of the room, and I don't believe they would've had some sort of building-wide system of manipulators that could've then moved him from there to an ambulance:

      http://www.tri-cityherald.com/... [tri-cityherald.com]

      At any rate, it looks like the glove box was just to allow access to adjust the equipment, and not perform the procedure. So there's every possibility that the actual work was done with manipulators. (You can play around with some of them in the museum in Richland; they're surprisingly nimble.)

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        Hmm, now I've read it in more detail it looks like he was transported from the decontamination centre to the ambulance by manipulators, which would seem entirely practical.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Boss: "Underling, go get Harold out of there!"

        Underling: "Ok..." [trots off]

        Boss' boss: "Very dangerous. If you go in there, you'll be exposed."

        Boss: "It's ok. I'm retrieving Harold remotely."

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      It was handled remotely. Operators used manipulators to handle the material behind glass shielding. Worked fine until some nitric acid exploded. He was blasted with shattered glass and americium.

  • 1984 People article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @06:17AM (#47374683)

    A lot of the background for this article* comes from a 1984 piece in People Magazine, in some cases word for word:

    http://www.people.com/people/a... [people.com]

    *It's an AP wire service piece

  • Safety margins (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @06:19AM (#47374695)

    The important thing to remember here is that he survived 500 times the maximum dose a worker can be legally exposed to.
    Try that with any chemical in any chemical plant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      WTF are you talking about?

      The exposure limit to benzene is 1 ppm. You will easily survive 500 ppm for a short time.

    • Re:Safety margins (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @06:57AM (#47374805) Journal

      The important thing to remember here is that he survived 500 times the maximum dose a worker can be legally exposed to. Try that with any chemical in any chemical plant.

      I wouldn't try it for just any chemical; but occupational exposure limits tend to be set (often with the aid of generous quantities of guesswork) around chronic occupational exposure and with the objective of not killing, or crippling too seriously, too high a percentage of the workforce. Asking "What can they breath all shift every shift for years or more without too many of them dropping dead, getting some freaky obscure cancer, or having the liver function of an elderly alcoholic before age 50?" tends to lead to lower, sometimes dramatically lower, numbers than "What can you probably survive, with intensive treatment and ongoing health effects?"

    • by orzetto (545509)

      Of course you can be exposed for a short period of time to 500 times the legal concentration of most chemicals. The "legal limit" is usually designed so that regular, 8-hour daily exposure has no long-term health effects, just like the legal radiation limits. Granted, legal limits back then were less conservative.

      Then of course it depends how you are exposed. ingestion is not the same as having skin contact. Methanol has a legal limit of 200 ppm, but I can put my hand in liquid methanol (by definition 1 mil

  • by ishmaelflood (643277) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @06:24AM (#47374717)

    " when a chemical reaction caused a glass glove box to explode"

    any idea what that was?

    My engineering brain struggles to find a heavy metal reaction that is unexpected. Oh, and enormous sympathy to HM, that's a horrible way to die.

  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @06:32AM (#47374739) Homepage Journal
    His treatment sort of worked. He ended up with a lot of bad health effects, but kept alive until he was 75, eleven years later. You read about old people living near Chernobyl and now Fukushima. Perhaps their age related decline leads to fewer ways for radiation to be lethal. The quick onset of leukemia seems to affect children more, for example. http://www.rerf.jp/radefx/late... [www.rerf.jp]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by umghhh (965931)
      Saw a (BBC?) documentary about people living around in the Chernobyl Zone and research done on the food that can be grown there without risk and apparently there are ways to avoid much of contamination if one knows which plants and plant parts to eat and which not. Having luck I suppose plays also a role as there are places there where contrary to what some claim radioactivity killed almost all life. Bottom line is you do not have to die directly of radiation (of the type we talk about here). The atomic man
    • His treatment sort of worked. He ended up with a lot of bad health effects, but kept alive until he was 75, eleven years later. You read about old people living near Chernobyl and now Fukushima. Perhaps their age related decline leads to fewer ways for radiation to be lethal. The quick onset of leukemia seems to affect children more, for example. http://www.rerf.jp/radefx/late... [www.rerf.jp]

      That study shows how even after extremely high exposures, leukemia risk is still quite low in general. I guess the real lesson is that we shouldn't drop A-Bombs near kids.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      " He ended up with a lot of bad health effects, but kept alive until he was 75, eleven years later."
      He died of heart problems. If you read the health effects they are claiming many of them seem just normal for a older person at that time. The rest might could also have been caused by chemical issues more than radiation. Heavy metals are for a large part things you want to avoid putting into your body.
      The cateracts could be an issue but I know a lot of 70 year olds that have them that have never been near an

      • by mdsolar (1045926)
        The article indicates he was no longer able to go hunting. That seems like a loss.
      • He died of heart problems. If you read the health effects they are claiming many of them seem just normal for a older person at that time. The rest might could also have been caused by chemical issues more than radiation. Heavy metals are for a large part things you want to avoid putting into your body.

        For people who are interested in this sort of thing, the TOXNET entry [nih.gov] for americium contains a number of excerpts from published work about the case, medical follow up, and eventual autopsy results. The first six case report entries on that page all involve publications involving McC|uskey; look for entries that refer specifically to "US Transuranium Registry (USTUR) Case 246". Because americium is an alpha emitter that principally deposits in bone, it is the bone and bone marrow that are most affected b

    • by snsh (968808)

      Those are the side effects of Khan blood.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @06:54AM (#47374797) Journal
    ... what super powers did he get?

    Oh, I forgot. He was 64 years old at that time.

    First Law of Superpowerdynamics: Only well muscled young men with washboard abs and manboob pecs get super powers

    Second Law of Superpowerdynamics: Superpowers will make you wear your underwear over your pants.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @07:42AM (#47374931)

      Europeans beware... the statement "underwear over your pants" is recursive - please do not try to execute this sentence on a production brain.

    • If you look at the photos of him a year and four years after, it looks like he started turning into Frankenstein's monster.

    • There is a corollary to the first law of Superpowerdynamics. If you are a young man, but out of shape, you can get superpowers which will immediately give you a perfect physique even if your powers have nothing to do with muscle tone/burning fat. Unless your power is akin to The Blob in which case you're physique will grow ever larger until, by all rights, you should die of a heart attack from your heart trying to pump blood across your fat-laden body.

    • Do not make him angry. You wouldn't like it if he's angry.

    • First Law of Superpowerdynamics: Only well muscled young men with washboard abs and manboob pecs get super powers

      I thought most of them got the washboard abs and whatnot because of their super powers. Consider:
      1) Captain America: he was a wuss until he was given the serum that made him a super-human.
      2) Spider-Man: a nerd that got pushed around until he was bitten by a weird spider.
      3) Batman: used his "Has Gobs of Cash" superpower to get extensive training.

  • they will use this method [uni-siegen.de] to clean up the site.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @07:10AM (#47374845) Homepage Journal

    The note would say "I am highly radioactive put the money in the bag."

  • The summary should have mentioned that he died of coronary artery disease, not of radiation exposure. The accident was terrible, sure, but the summary has led some to believe that he died of radiation exposure - which is terrible in a different way.
  • Cecil Kelley (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumPion (805098) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:16AM (#47375057)

    As far as I am aware the highest radiation dose anyone has received was Cecil Kelley, whom was exposed to a criticality accident at a plutonium processing plant. When the tank stirrer turned on, the geometry of the plutonium solution became critical, exposing him to ~12,000 rem. He died 36 hours later.

    See Page 16 for a description of the accident here: http://ncsp.llnl.gov/basic_ref/la-13638.pdf [llnl.gov]

    Or the wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Kelley_criticality_accident [wikipedia.org]

    • by TopSpin (753)

      As far as I am aware the highest radiation dose

      Naturally the `record' must be limited to the subset of known cases. I've been studying the history of Soviet nuclear science and industry for a few years. Things went on in the Soviet Union that beggars the imagination, as they say.

      When the waste storage tank blew up in Mayak in 1957, 90% of the high level waste fell in the immediate vicinity. That's 90% of 740 PBq (740E15 decays per second) within about half a kilometer radius, in which there were certainly some number of workers, this being the most

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:50AM (#47375241) Homepage

    Not only did Harold get a dose that was way beyond the LD50 for humans, he lived for 11 more years and died of unrelated causes [wikipedia.org]. His pastor had to convince people he was safe to be around.

    Harold was far from the only Tri-Cities nuclear celebrity [exopermaculture.com]. There were also stories about guys who would drop their pants and squat over reactor vents until their balls got a little burned. Think of it like a nuclear vasectomy. I never documented any of those stories but there were a lot of them and worse.

    One thing I did personally document was that, adjusted for age, the cancer rate for people who worked at Hanford was not statistically higher than that of the general population.

    I achieved my own personal notoriety there by accidentally leaving my dosimeter in my shaving kit and leaving that on an orange Fiestaware platter that was so hot it would light up a pancake meter on three scales. A few weeks later I get a panic call from Rad Services asking if I'm okay. Hehe. God, I hated that place.

    • Actually, I've got a question about that story you linked. XKCD's "What If" blog did a story a few months ago about what would happen if you were to go swimming in a nuclear fuel pool. He came to the conclusion that as long as you stuck to the surface, the radiation levels would be practically non-existent because of how water impedes radiation. The guy in that article swam and drank from a spent fuel pool, but he probably only swam on the surface and was drinking water from the surface.

      From your experience

      • by MarkRose (820682)

        At the surface of a reactor pool, the biggest dose of radiation is actually from the tritium created by neutron absorption by the hydrogen in the water molecules. The heat given off by the fuel will create a convective current, so the tritium will be evenly dispersed throughout the pool. Swimming in or drinking the water would obviously not be the best thing due to the tritium contamination (while skin will block the very weak beta radiation, tritium ingested or absorbed through the skin can cause DNA damag

    • You could make pancakes? What?
  • Did he grow to 50 feet tall and rampage around Las Vegas?

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre

Working...