Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day, blog posts, and submarines

Neutron Doodle was the winning song in a recent ANS contest. Since it is based on Yankee Doodle, I thought it would be a good choice for my Memorial Day post.

I also want to encourage people to check out the Third Carnival of Nuclear Energy, the best of the blogs. It contains an illuminating post by Rod Adams about attending a public meeting about Calvert Cliffs 3 and debating with Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear.

While I am pointing out good links, let me point out John Wheeler's discussion of Indian Point and Vermont Yankee water issues. John does a masterful job of exposing the politics (as opposed to the science) behind these "controversies."

Memorial Day and the Military

Memorial Day is when I think of my relatives who have served in the military. This group includes my husband, and it includes my uncle (now deceased) who volunteered the day after Pearl Harbor. While many of my relatives volunteered (and a few were drafted) they all served in the days when "being drafted" was a possibility for everyone, including hearthrobs like Elvis Presley.

I am not eager to see the draft come back, but I think society is somewhat more polarized now that the draft has ended. We now have many families who can't imagine being in the service. When our son graduated high school, we urged him to go into the Navy to get some real-world experience before going to college. Our friends thought we were crazy to suggest that a child go into the military. (They had never been in the service.) At any rate, our son decided to go straight to college.

In college, he obtained military-type experience (to some extent) by joining the mountaineering club and learning serious wilderness survival skills. Later, at Boeing, he was co-leader on an expedition to the Bugaboo Mountains of British Columbia. At any rate, our son made the right choice for his life, but we weren't nut-cases for suggesting he follow his father into the Navy for a while.

That's another thing I like about living in Vermont. It's kind of old-fashioned here, with flags flying on Memorial Day, and special license plates for veterans. Memorial Day and military service still mean something in Vermont.


Which brings me to submarines. A few weeks ago, this article appeared in our local paper urging the navy to NOT allow women on submarines, for fear of irradiating their egg cells or unborn fetuses. My friend Howard Shaffer, a former submarine officer, wrote an excellent rebuttal letter, which was published. Living within 200 feet of a reactor on a submarine should put the Vermont Yankee issues in some kind of perspective. Of course, for some people, "perspective" on "risks" is an oxymoron. One must simply avoid all risks...from nuclear.

I include a slightly edited (for length) version of Howard's letter here.

Submarine crews are safe from radiation because of the history of the science and engineering involved.
In 1942 when scientists and engineers were building the first reactor in the Squash Court, under the football grandstand at the University of Chicago, they realized that a separate group would be needed to protect the people on the project, the public, and the environment from excess radiation....The group was called “Health Physics,” a wartime cover name. The name remains, and Health Physics is a separate discipline, with professionals everywhere radiation is used.
Shielding was designed for the first reactors, and the results measured when the plants were at full power. Shielding design quickly evolved into standard practices.....People wear monitors, there are installed instruments that measure and alarm, and there are scheduled surveys by Health Physics with portable instruments. This basic practice is true everywhere-on submarines, at power plants like Vermont Yankee, and elsewhere. There is over 60 years of experience with shielding design, and data to support it.
The May 19 op-ed said, “It is widely believed by many that advanced shielding systems can adequately protect personnel from radiation and minimize the risk to women.” No. It is not a matter of belief. This is known and proven. In the submarines in which I served, the shielding was adequate to protect men, too – me included! The doctor seems to have forgotten practically all of what he learned, or should have learned in his naval nuclear power training and medical school.
Radiation exposure standards date to the first international conference in 1928.
There will be no shielding changes needed to protect women on submarines.

Howard Shaffer PE
Licensed Professional Engineer, nuclear, NH, VT, MA, IL
Engineer Officer, Flagship, US Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force 1968-9
Enfield, NH 03748

1 comment:

Rod Adams said...


I agree with Howard. My daughter probably would have volunteered for submarine duty - with my strong encouragement - if the policy change had taken place 5 years ago. Based on my inside view, that would have happened if Florida's courts had made a different ruling about election results in December of 2000.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Engineer Officer, USS Von Steuben (1987-1990)
Father of a female Navy LT and father-in-law of an engineer-qualified submarine LT.