U.S. NRC Blog

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Three Minutes with an NRC Health Physicist

Sophie Holiday
Health Physicist

By now most of you have heard of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (which also includes the arts). These terms are shorthand for the school subjects that experts believe are essential to prepare students for today’s workforce. What may not be as familiar is the range of jobs available to students in STEM fields.

3minutesAt the NRC, we are always looking for students with good STEM backgrounds. But we don’t only hire nuclear engineers. In fact, there are many health physicists as part of our workforce. This important specialty is the subject of one of our latest YouTube videos.

Health physicists are trained in protecting people, members of the public and patients from the potential hazards of using radioactive materials. Radioactive materials can be used in diagnosing and treating illnesses, conducting research, producing electricity or any number of industrial processes. Besides physics, health physicists might study biology, health, engineering, technology or environmental science.

At the NRC, health physicists fill a variety of roles. They review applications for new reactors and amendments to existing reactors. They make sure our regulations will be met by facilities involved in processing uranium into nuclear fuel. They oversee the safety of medical, academic and industrial uses of radioisotopes. They perform inspections at the facilities we license. Health physicists are essential to fulfilling the NRC’s mission of protecting people and the environment.

Check out our video to learn more about the important role health physicists play in our society.

13 responses to “Three Minutes with an NRC Health Physicist

  1. matikiri April 19, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    thanks for sharing

  2. Carol Moyer April 14, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    I’m sure glad that a health physicist enabled my Tc-99 bone scan, so that my stress fracture could receive the proper diagnosis and treatment. I recognize that exposure to ionizing radiation can bring dangers, so I am grateful for scientists who manage these risks with the many benefits of these unique and powerful materials.

    • TheCompleteStory April 15, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      Thank God for the life-saving aspects of radioactivity and radiation. What a wonderful story of the successful use of radiation to diagnose and treat disease!
      There are countless benefits derived from the use of radioactivity and radiation. But there are two radiation sources that we must no longer count on: A-bombs and A-plants.
      A most worthy goal has been to reduce and eventually eliminate A-bombs. An increasing number of folks now also wish to reduce and eventually eliminate A-plants. After all who really benefits from atomic power?! For certain the nuclear industry, their stockholders, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) benefit. But certainly not the public or planet Earth. A-plants have left lasting scars on people and our planet. Let’s face it, nuclear plants are dangerous neighbors. Just like we would like to do with a grossly offensive neighbor, we should either evict them or at least put a restraining order on them. Unfortunately, we are currently stuck with a lot of aging nuclear power plants for which the NRC is a lax regulator.

      We can, however, at least place a restraining order on nuclear power. The order should…

      Require absolutely no more new nuke plants;
      Deny any more license extensions for existing nuke plant dinosaurs;
      Shut down existing nukes that literally place millions of people at risk because they are in the backyard of large metropolitan areas. Nukes near New York City, Boston, and Chicago are examples;
      Require that the government move stockpiled high level radioactive waste (currently at 93 separate sites, many near large cities) to a central, safe, isolated area until an underground permanent storage repository is operational.
      Require that our nuclear power plants be regulated by an outfit like the EPA, not a self-serving, nuclear industry cheerleader like the NRC.

      I certainly do not want to throw out the radiation baby with the bathwater. I just want to throw out the dangerous nuclear power plant bathwater.

      Besides, supplying our energy needs is no longer just a matter of choosing between two poisons, fossil or fission; big oil or big nuclear. Nuclear lost out to renewables long ago. However, for the first time, fossil just lost the race against renewables. It is finally the beginning of the end for fossil generation. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than for fossil power. What great news for the people of this planet!

  3. joy cash April 14, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Public health & radioactive substances donot exist safely in any realm, except in PR ploys of nuclear energy industry & governmental coalitions.
    Suspension of reality & truth is commonplace in our shared world today. As a species we are slow learners & fast forgetters.
    Overwhelmed by stressors of contemporary life, most are too distracted to pay discerning attention to this & other matters.
    Trusting any governmental protections of our health is unintelligent at best.

    • Garry Morgan April 14, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Some folks do pay attention Joy, I agree with you that it is folly to rely on government to protect your health.

      The nuclear industry’s Health Physicist does not serve as an advocate for public health or a healthy community surrounding nuclear facilities. They are there to monitor radiation in the facility, the workers, and in the community surrounding a nuclear facility as stipulated by either corporate policy state or federal policy. They support ALARA, as low as reasonably achievable, radiation levels. ALARA does not consider cumulative ionizing radiation affects on community health. ALARA is an economic standard, not a public health standard.

      There is no safe dose of ionizing radiation. Unfortunately there is an effort in the nuclear industry to compromise Human Reliability Standards as they apply to Radiation Safety. Political and economic pressure is being applied on the NRC, and in political circles, to deregulate nuclear power and drop the no-linear-threshold dose response standard. This is a dangerous move on the part of the nuclear industry and their political puppets, as it compromises the pyramidal base of nuclear reliability and safety

      There are those who care more for profit than they do human health. The nuclear industry has paid for questionable studies regarding radiation safety. This same tactic was attempted by the tobacco industry regarding cigarette smoking. A video which debunks an MIT study regarding low level radiation exposure. https://youtu.be/ZJrqqj_RzUI

      • Dan Williamson April 16, 2015 at 9:36 am

        For any readers that are interested in becoming informed on the topic rather than taking Mr. Morgan’s “no safe dose” fact-like declaration at face value, maneuver your way over to radiationeffects.org and do some browsing. You will likely be surprised at what decades of actual, real-world experience have shown us. FUD has no place in this discussion.

      • TheCompleteStory April 16, 2015 at 11:35 am

        Dear Dan,
        You bring up stuff that supports your point of view and it is interesting and convincing. And then I read an article in the Feb ’15 edition of the Scientific American on the “Swallows of Fukushima”. It covers the two largest laboratories for the study of the effects of low-level radiation (LLR), Chernobyl and Fukushima. Butterflies and swallows seem to be especially sensitive to LLR. At Chernobyl it was found that not only were butterflies born with malformed wings, legs, and eyes but mutations could be passed on from generation to generation and that the rate of genetic abnormalities increased w each new generation. It acknowledges and then refutes a study that said radiation around Chernobyl resulted in a wildlife windfall.
        That is what is so damning about having to contend with nuke plants and radiation. Even the experts disagree. Ask the traumatized survivors of TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima what experience tells them that experts never can.

      • Garry Morgan April 17, 2015 at 7:27 am

        Dan, you represent the problem with the nuclear industry, they, including you, do not tell the truth concerning health relationships and nuclear energy; that is a Human Reliability failure. Below, I will explain why you and the nuclear industry are a Human Reliability failure in these matters.

        “There is no safe dose,” are not my words, they are the words of distinguished scientists who invented the terms of Health Physics in our nuclear age. People such as Dr. Karl Morgan, Dr. John Gofman and many others. I take up those words because of my studies and experience.

        Each of the men I just mentioned, Dr Morgan and Dr. Gofman, had a problem with the nuclear industry, the problem is people who attempt to deceive the public. Take it personal fella, all within the nuclear industry who deceive the public should take it personal, Human Reliability is personal – just as Health Physics is personal.

        NO SAFE DOSE – “There is no safe level of exposure and there is no dose of (ionizing) radiation so low that the risk of a malignancy is zero.” – Dr. Karl Morgan, the father of Health Physics. Also concluded by the National Academy of Sciences BEIR VII, Phase 2, 2006 study, pg 15: reference link below, quote – “There is a “no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.”” Dr. Gofman proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no safe dose after many years of research and study. Both Morgan and Gofman were harassed and funding stopped by the industry because of their reports based on scientific findings of fact. Their scientific evidence and facts are protective of people, not the bottom line of the nuclear industry.

        Reference is the Bier VII Report
        http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11340/health-risks-from-exposure-to-low-levels-of-ionizing-radiation?utm_source=WIDu12164872011041280841&utm_medium=Widgetv3&utm_content=11340&utm_campaign=Widget&utm_term=homeview

        The civilian nuclear industry is a financial profit motivated industry, healthy people and communities are secondary to the profit motivation of the nuclear power industry. That is why we have a regulator which must do their job (110%), insuring that the people and communities remain safe from those who would deceive the public and “sell their souls” for financial profit. Unfortunately, we as American voters have a problem with politicians and lobbyists who attempt to compromise nuclear safety via corrupt influences of nuclear industry money, and deceitful industry representatives..

  4. TheCompleteStory April 14, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Years ago I knew personally one fine HP that worked for the NRC as an inspector. He really knew his stuff and inspected our nuke plant fairly yet firmly. I would like to think there are many more like him working for the Commission.
    How would you like, though, being an HP at Chernobyl or Fukushima? Talk about a depressing yet necessary job. Imagine talking to concerned citizens about the radiation exposure they received from the accident and the possible effects on their offspring. Did you know, for example, that the abortion rate for pregnant mothers is very high in the Chernobyl region. A few abortions are spontaneous but most are intentional. After all, what caring mother would want to take the chance of bringing a mutated child into the world. And this is just one of the many scars left on people due to nuclear power plant accidents. It is high time to put this gruesome nuclear genie back in the bottle.

    • Garry Morgan April 15, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Friend, in my opinion the “nuclear genie” will never be placed back into the bottle on U.S. soil until the nuclear industry has a disaster which leaves a U.S. city or area a no mans land, much like Fukushima or Chernobyl. Fortunately our regulatory structure at this time helps to prevent such a disaster. Unfortunately, there are paid for politicians and nuclear industry lobbyists which are attempting to change the regulatory protections currently in place; it has been my experience that the nuclear industry deceives the American people at every opportunity for the purpose of increasing the corporate bottom line..

      . Deregulating the nuclear industry and eliminating the no linear threshold standard is like saying, “spraying gasoline on your body and striking a match will not burn you.”

      Some folks within the nuclear industry corporate structure are only concerned with the money they make. Money before human health is a dangerous proposition when considering “all things nuclear.”.

      • TheCompleteStory April 15, 2015 at 6:44 pm

        You Mr. Morgan are spot on once again! It is depressing to think that a federal agency that is tasked with protecting us really does not have our backs after all!

  5. Nancy Allen April 14, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Health Physicist…it sounds so innoquous. But in reality it means someone trained to permit the use of ionizing radiation.

    • TheCompleteStory April 15, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      I have also found that in my experience HP also means “Helpful Person”. HPs have saved this radiation worker’s bacon several times.

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