Beta burns seem more likely now, but there’s no excuse for anyone having them.

In comments to the last post, ansky26 notes,

One of the news reports I heard this morning specifically said “beta radiation burns” and described the situation as workers standing in contaminated water while working on the new electrical connections. Three hospitalized, one released already.

Crap! That makes snooty journalist’s snap judgement more likely. I’m still far from convinced. But just before that Charlie Martin passed along this:

Three workers received radiation exposure of 17 to 18 rem from standing in contaminated water while laying cable…

I’ll have to unpack some stuff to address this. Let’s say I’m their RCT. We’ve just learned they’ll have to work while standing around in what is, basically, reactor water.

Gulp. So how high is the water? “Whole body” dose begins immediately above knee. Is it above the knee? Dammit. We can normally assume the whole body is 30 cm from the radioactive source. Now it’ll be maybe two inches away.

The best case for gamma, then, would be water less than knee-height and they remembered to put the dosimetry at the knee. Water approaching the crotch? Uh-huh. Hope not.

Beta concentrates its dose in the skin. So f they picked up 18 rem (0.18 Sv) of gamma, there’s certainly enough beta present to deposit ~500 rad ( 5 Gray) in the skin. (Self-shielding by the water? We’ll pass on that consideration for now.)

So. So we expect beta burns? No, no, a thousand times NO!

They’re in standing water? Wearing plastics?. With heavy hip waders, perhaps? Because that set-up alone would block exactly…wait for it…100% of beta radiation.

Do you other rad-experienced folks agree? I’m confident that’s plenty of shielding to boot-height, but slather on another layer if you’d like.

Point is, if anyone is getting beta burns, that’s a terrible breakdown of rad protection. And beta burn is an acute hazard. It’s not a statistical crapshoot decades down the road. So even if you don’t care about dosing your people, you’ve only got 180 of the “Fukushima Fifty” available. Severe beta burns? He’s not dead, but he is out of the picture and you’ve just lost an asset. Do you have them to spare?

If nothing thinner than a Type-A HazMat suit will block the beta radiation, get him that suit. Or MacGuyver something up. It wouldn’t be difficult. It’s called “layering”.

So, no. I still don’t expect beta burns. They should be fully shielded against that hazard.

About wormme

I've accepted that all of you are socially superior to me. But no pretending that any of you are rational.
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11 Responses to Beta burns seem more likely now, but there’s no excuse for anyone having them.

  1. crosspatch says:

    Apparently they got a high dose to their feet only according to NHK, I copied part of the article in the previous thread.

  2. MikeW says:

    Thanks Wormy, for your well informed commentary. Perhaps I just missed it, but what I would find very helpful at the moment, would be a short recap listing the half-life and identity of each of the breakdown products in the nuclear fuel chain. I get the Iodine and Cesium step. I recall that Xenon comes after the 8-(half)day life of Iodine. But I can never get it all in one place with the timings involved. Which decays are kicking out Gamma and which ones Beta? Each one has a specific energy as well, yes?

    What I’d also like to know is how do Iodine and Cesium particles strewn here and there and NOT the heavies Uranium an Plutonium? (extra credit – are the breakdowns of Pu the same as U?)

    Thanks again for your work here.

    • wormme says:

      Every element has radioactive isotopic versions. That is, same number of protons, differing neutrons. Some are stable, some radioactive. The energies and half-lives vary for all rad isotopes. But most of them are fission fragments, the big remaining chunks of the split uranium (or plutonium) nucleus. These are overwhelmingly beta and gamma emitters.

      But as far as how (or whether) they disperse? That’s determined by the element’s physical and chemical properties. Solid liquid gas? Inert or chemically active? Etc. The noble gases, iodine, and cesium get the attention because they’re the main jailbreakers.

      (extra credit – are the breakdowns of Pu the same as U?)

      By “breakdowns”, I’ll assume you mean fission fragments. They are not the same, and a sophisticated analysis easily sees the difference. But at my level, radiation protection, there’s really no difference. The isotopes of concern are all the same, and their percentages don’t change enough to warrrant changes in our approach.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. MikeW says:

    On the issue of radiation burns and proper protection some days ago I saw a report on Fox about a Miami company sending 200 full body anti-radiation suits to Japan. I’ve no idea if the equipment has actually reached the workers, although I’d think it most likely that it wouldn’t based purely on idea of “switching equipment in the middle of a crisis, are you cazy?”
    I didn’t find the video but I did locate a news release and the company’s website.
    I’ve no idea if you’re familiar with this company’s products (under the Demron name) but how does its performance stack up with what you’ve been able to find out about the current Fuku environment? The suits are under the “Products” menu item and the material performance characteristics under the “Research/Results”. See the DOE LLNL report:

    Click to access RST_Livermore_Results.pdf


    • Mountainbear says:

      I’m pretty sure the suits are great. I’m not too fond about changing equipment in the middle of a crisis, however.

      It’s like giving me a new ambulance truck and sending me and my team out with it right away, without giving us a chance to stock it the way we do it, etc, in peace. Or imagine in the middle of a firefight, my STG77 “breaks” for some reason. You give men an AK47, right there, in the middle of it. I will hit with it, sure, but not as good as with the STG77, which I know in my sleep.

    • wormme says:

      The claim for that fabric (0.38 mm thickness) is a factor of 3 for beta, 10 for low-energy gamma. I can’t tell from the picture how thick the suit is, but it’s more than 0.38 mm.

      My assumption is that it’s thick enough to block all beta, because otherwise why bother? As for gamma? Maybe it knocks the rate down enough in a mixed gamma field to be worth its weight .

      But if so, it’ll be the first I’ve seen.

  4. Mountainbear says:

    I guess they were thinking “Let’s just get done with laying the cable” instead of getting out right away. “Oh just ten more minutes!”

    Famous last words? Na.

  5. oldHP says:

    That fabric is also being touted as meeting the specs for a Ballistic Shield (not body armor).

    “The fabric, which consists of an advanced radiopaque, nano-polymeric compound fused between layers of fabric.”

    So have they powdered some blend of exotic Russian rare earth metals for shielding?

  6. Pingback: Training is boron. | World's Only Rational Man

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