Abnormal Radiation Level Reported

MIT's Nuclear Reactor Laboratory Reports High Readings for One Worker

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The control room of the MIT nuclear reactor is shown in this Tech file photo.
Tech file photo—Ricardo Ramirez

The MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory is currently being inspected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after a worker was exposed to unusually high levels of radiation.

After a regulatory check that occurs every three months, a worker’s dosimeter, a pen-like device used to measure radiation exposure, had an accumulated reading of about 4 rem of radiation. The NRC annual occupational limit for radiation exposure is 5 rem per year, according to an NRC press release. Typically, readings of 0.5 rem or less are expected.

Readings for all other workers were normal for the same time period, July to September 2007, according to an MIT press release.

"Although this atypical reading was below the federal safety limits, the Institute voluntarily notified its own safety officials and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission," the MIT press release states.

MIT reported the readings on Oct. 17, according to the NRC press release.

Claude R. Canizares, associate provost and vice president for research, said that it is not known if the anomalous reading is accurate, but authorities are acting on the assumption that it is.

The situation is not considered very serious, but its cause needs to be determined, Canizares said. The situation "poses no danger to public health and safety or to the environment," according to the MIT press release.

The worker’s exposure to radiation will not surpass the allowed dose for the year, Pamela D. Serfes, executive director of the MIT News Office, told the Boston Globe. The worker, described by Serfes as an operator, has suffered no ill consequences.

According to the NRC press release, the NRC will review how the laboratory implements its radiation protection program in addition to looking for factors that may have caused the anomalous reading. The NRC expects the inspection to take two to three weeks. A public report is issued approximately 30 days after completion of the inspection.

The average American citizen receives approximately 0.36 rem per year from the environment, medical X-rays, and other day-to-day sources, according to an NRC fact sheet. About 50 rem can decrease the red blood cell count.

Licensed to operate in 1958 by the Atomic Energy Commission, NRC’s predecessor, the MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory conducts research in the fields of nuclear energy systems, nuclear science, nuclear medicine, and radiation science and technology.