Thursday, April 3, 2008

Retirement again- probably

Image: Setting traps for Mule deer on Pahute Mesa on the former AEC's Nevada Test Site, 1964. We collected tissue specimens from animals and analyzed them for radionuclide content. The quantity of radionuclides was the same as or less than that of other areas in the country. At that time, just after the moratorium on above-ground testing of nuclear weapons by the US and USSR in 1962, radionuclides in food, animals, and water was directly proportional to the amount of nuclear fallout in rainwater- thus, higher in the eastern states because of higher amounts of rainfall.

By the way, the trap failed to catch any deer, but we collected all the specimens we needed from road kills. We also had some time for boondoggling on the half million acre test site. Once I climbed down the sides of a crater left by the nuclear explosive in Project Sudan. The test was designed to study the feasibility of "digging" a Panama-like canal though central America using nuclear explosives.

Transporting Holsteins cows from Reno, Nevada, to the Nevada Test site near Las Vegas. Cooling off the livestock with buckets of water. I served my military obligation with a Commission in The U.S. Public Health Service. The Service performed a study to define the pathway of Iodine 131 as it was created during a nuclear test and then as it passed through the atmosphere to alfalfa feed and ultimately to cow's milk. No, we did not nuke the cows.

Checking a fellow nuclear worker for alpha contamination at Lynchburg, VA, during a decommissioning project.

Mapping some of the nuclear plants I have worked at as a Health Physics Technician (HP), sometimes referred to as a Radiation Protection Technician (RP). For about half the contracts, I worked as an instructor in Radiation Safety for the contract workers. I started working on the road as a nuclear worker in Fall 1983 at V.C. Summers Nuke plant. About 25 years later I am finishing up my last contract, hopefully, at Brunswick Nuke plant. Map covers sites I worked at between 1983 and 2001. Click to enlarge.
As an Instructor for use of respirators.

Tomorrow is my last day as a nuclear worker at Brunswick Nuclear Plant, in Southport, NC, near Wilmington. It may be the start my retirement- again. I said after a 5 week job at Sequoyah Nuclear plant last Fall that it would be my last job. The hardest part of my work day has been walking from the far reaches of the parking lot to my work station. So, climbing several flights of stairs to the top of the turbine deck or climbing over pipes and obstructions in the reactor building is out of the question. There are several reasons why people retire in their 60s- not the least of them, is that we ain't as young and energetic, quick and nimble as we used to be.

Tomorrow, at my retirement, there will be no dinner party, no speeches, no golden watch, and probably not even a thank you. Just "Good bye, see ya down the road". I think that is what it is for a road tech. I didn't even get an "attaboy" free meal ticket on this contract, nor did I get one for the two previous years- but my coworkers did. Yes, it is about time to hang it up. Actually, my team mates deserved a meal ticket as they spent their time and money to prepare a really delicious Easter dinner for about 60 workers. We don't stop to observe holidays- I wonder if my coal mining ancestors got off for Holidays. If they were around, I'd ask them.

I am not sure I chose this career. I believe I just flowed into it and couldn't get out. Psychologists would argue that I didn't follow my bliss. "Everyone has a choice", they say. Actually, I stayed in it for the money especially the last 15 years or so; pure and simple. To me there was no pride nor fun in the job. For most of the time, the best part of the occupation was seeing different parts of the country and meeting some very interesting co-workers. Another benefit was having a lots of time BETWEEN job contracts. I was free (unemployed) for most of my summers from May to September. When I started working on the road in early 1980s, the contracts lasted about 3 months- that was about the time it took to change nuclear fuel and provide maintenance in the plants. In the last decade, the same job has been reduced to about 5 or 6 weeks. Many of the younger technicians who had families left the business and now there seems to be plenty of demand for HPs, even for the older ones. In essence, since I wished to have more free time, I have accepted only one or two contracts a year for the last 10 years, giving me almost 6 months a year to do what I wanted. In the last decade for instance, I took month-long tours of England and Europe. Believe me it was easy to fill up my free time and I wished for more. I like to believe the reason I take a job is to slow down time, as it seems to be flying by these days. I've already fulfilled some of my dreams and now I'm looking ahead for more.

Being a road tech has not been my only career. I performed diabetes research at several institutes including Virginia Tech. I also taught biology and Health Physics at the latter. A few days ago, I was eating breakfast in the cafeteria at Brunswick Nulear Station and an in-house newsletter caught my eye. The Plant Manager wrote an inspiring "go go team" message to the workers who are here for the outage. The by-line had a picture of the manager- egads, he was a former student of mine who graduated from Virginia Tech. What a gulf now stands between teacher and former pupil, as it should be. We wanted different things.

It's the joy of the journey that counts, not the destination.


Anonymous said...

Hello bob,
I guess that tells it all! you are retiring having spent a lifetime of work in a mistake. Not appreciated or thanked by even your co-workers. A life disappointment and waisted time. Washed up, defeated and disabled ot walk from the parking lot ot a work place. What a story!
cheer up.....things could be worse!??
However, I think the good times are just beginning! Life is the teacher! Enjoy it all you can!
Geroge Rickeman

Anonymous said...

Heya Bob,

"To me there was no pride nor fun in the job."

Well,I for one am glad that you guys are looking out for us when we're in the can,even though it,you guys and gals can be a pain in the butt we know you mean well,odd I just surfed through here,my family sold land for Brunswick Station to be built on in the 70s,the RF outage you were at last fall is in my back yard and years ago before I got into the craft I'm in now I picked up 747mr in 15 seconds at VC Summer (hot leg,SG),I'm sure you've seen worse.
Its hard to explain the in's and outs of the kind of contract work we do even though our jobs are very different its sometimes funny to see the look on people's faces when you say..."I'm getting laid off Sunday,they say,I'm soo sorry,thats terrible,then some morbid glee rises in the form of a smile and I say,oh no,its great and I can't wait to get the ax!"

After years of the sound of horror coming from my mother's voice when I say this I think she's starting to understand,my wife's never had that problem,the flights to Boston,and a cab ride to the UE office means its time to enjoy the time off you pay for in missed holidays,to me,its worth it.

Bob Kramp said...

Right on Brother. I guess another reason I sign on a contract is to re-discover how valuble one's free and personal time really is.

Bob Kramp said...

Oh, by the way, I did get a thank you gift on my way out the door yesterday: a very nice coffee mug inscribed with my name and a graphic for the "nuclear" atom- better than a gold watch.

Debi said...

Love the photo! Too funny...

Sounds as though you had a great job, having the time to do all of the things that most don't get around to doing. :o)