Inside The Hanford Counting Rooms: How Radiation Levels Are Moni - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Inside The Hanford Counting Rooms: How Radiation Levels Are Monitored

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It is right in the middle of Richland, but most people probably have no idea what it is. A small building plays a big role in the Hanford cleanup mission. It is right in the middle of Richland, but most people probably have no idea what it is. A small building plays a big role in the Hanford cleanup mission.
RICHLAND, WA – It is right in the middle of Richland, but most people probably have no idea what it is. A small building plays a big role in the Hanford cleanup mission.

NBC Right Now took part in a tour of the In Vivo Radiobioassay & Research Facility and even spoke with the man who has left behind a legacy of life-saving science. Thousands of Hanford workers go through the building every year for checkups and radiation counts.

"There are standards that the Department of Energy have set that say, 'you have reached a potential level of exposure, just the potential...we want you to come down here anyway," explained Ed Parsons, Senior Technical Advisor for the U.S. Department of Energy.

For about 50 minutes those workers will take a seat, lay down or stand as they are checked out by detectors. It is a little eerie walking into the rooms. Some have 12-inch thick steel walls and doors that weigh tons to block out the natural radiation from the outside world so they can see what is going on inside your body. The D.O.E. has certain exposure levels that no worker is allowed to reach.

"We have not seen anybody that's come even close to our expected levels in many years," said Parsons.

That does not include exposure to other factors. One of the last major examples of radiation exposure was a Prosser man named Harold McCluskey. He was involved in an explosion at Hanford in 1976 that exposed him to one of the highest recorded levels of radioactive material, giving him the nickname ‘The Atomic Man.’

"There were a lot of sad faces around here because it was very, very serious. The dog study showed that they died when they had those levels," explained Earl Palmer, a retired scientist.

Palmer is the very modest man many of the facility’s workers know as a trailblazer in the way radiation levels are recorded. In addition to creating some of his own counting machines and techniques, he worked for years to monitor people like McCluskey and even helped with the treatment process to extract the chemicals stuck in his body, which ultimately is believed to have saved his life. For that reason the Palmer Counting Room is named after him.

"I don't know why, except I suggest that maybe it was because they ran out of names," joked Palmer.

To this day his methods are used to check up on Hanford workers.

"We're trying to follow through in that tradition as we move along into the next phase of the Hanford mission," said Parson.

This marks the 25th year the whole body count room has operated. The often annual checkups are in addition to monitoring tags employees at Hanford wear. They say these iron rooms have worked for monitoring purposes for decades and they plan to use them for years to come.
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