Meet 2019–2021 HPS President Eric Goldin

HPS President Eric Goldin on a hike at Angel's Landing in Zion National Park Utah. Submitted photos

Eric Goldin became the first two-year-term president of the Health Physics Society (HPS) at the 2019 HPS Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida. We asked him some questions about himself and his plans for the Society so you can get to know him better and learn what to expect from his presidency. Goldin shares with HPS members his thoughts on the Society and the field of health physics and his goals for his first year as president.

Why did you run to be the HPS president?

Frankly, it never occurred to me to run for HPS president. I'd been involved in the Society for quite a number of years, participated on a couple of committees, was a director about a decade ago, was parliamentarian, and got arm-twisted into running for secretary. I learned a lot about the Society operations during that time, especially while on the Rules Committee, but I never considered myself president material. When I was asked by the Nominating Committee chair, I figured, "Sure. I was recently secretary so I know how things work and there's no way that I'll actually get elected." It was a real surprise to find myself in this position.

With that background however, I still believe I can offer some value to the Society. I recognize that I am very fortunate to start with a tremendous foundation built by those who have come before—the recent Society governance changes in particular. One of my strengths is to communicate and bring people together. With all the changes and the pressing needs on the Society, I hope to further implement the new governance program and thereby improve Society operations for the benefit of the members.

How would you summarize your health physics career?

It's often funny how people come into their careers. While I was in high school, I wanted to be a physician but a buddy of mine talked about "nuclear" stuff (he had an uncle who taught nuclear engineering at Iowa State, if I recall). When I got ready to apply for college, I decided nuclear engineering was about as cool as you can get, and this was before being nerdy was trendy. Off I went to the University of Arizona, enrolling in a traditional nuclear engineering program—reactor physics, neutron transport, criticality, materials sciences, etc. During my junior year, I became interested in biological effects of radiation. I had an advisor who suggested that perhaps that might be a good career path, and when I got ready to pursue a graduate degree, I had a choice—focus on health physics or on plasma physics. I'd already decided reactor physics calculations wasn't for me. But the math required for plasma physics was daunting and the job market seemed better for health physicists so I applied for and accepted a Public Health Service traineeship in health physics at Texas A&M. Through grad school, I became increasingly interested in biological effects, eventually working through a PhD program in biomedical sciences at the University of Texas Graduate School in Houston, primarily housed at MD Anderson Hospital. My focus shifted to cancer research and a goal of an academic position. However, research funds and faculty positions were very tight in those years. A couple of former classmates from A&M convinced me that I could step right back into a health physics career at a power plant. I returned to Houston and a few years later moved to California, where I've spent the past 36 years at San Onofre. I've had the rare pleasure of seeing the entire range of power plant health physics, from startup, years of plant operations and outages, and finally decommissioning.

When and why did you join the HPS?

I first joined the HPS as a student member while in grad school in 1971. When my focus shifted to cancer research and I was no longer eligible for those cheap student dues, I let the membership lapse. I rejoined in the early 80s when I was back as a professional health physicist working for a utility. I always felt that joining the professional society had significant benefits—career advancement, industry contacts, and mostly exposure to new learning opportunities. I've thoroughly enjoyed my participation in HPS activities and hope to continue way into the future.

Did you learn anything new about the Society during your president-elect year?

I don't believe I learned anything new about the Society but, on the other hand, I've been very impressed with the activities and professionalism of the local chapters.

Did you have any surprises during your president-elect year?

I was pleasantly surprised by the size and activities of the chapters. I expected to find some chapter meetings with only a few people, but that really never happened. We just need to get all this local talent to participate in the national Society.

As president, what are your plans and goals for the coming year?

Keep my head above water and keep the Society alive. Seriously, my focus this first year will be to continue to implement the new governance program and to support the strategic plan to examine the key issues and seek solutions. Fortunately, the folks before me have set us up for success and we have a great program to facilitate the needed changes. We now have a strategic planning advisor, Mike Lewandowski, who is exceptional at managing this effort. The plan identifies our vision, mission and strategies, core services, and short-term goals that change each year according to Board direction. These program elements are essential in shaping the future for the Society. I am optimistic that we have a success path to ensure we meet the goal of being the "home for radiation safety specialists and the trusted source of radiation safety information."

What can HPS members do to aid you in your job as president?

Volunteer!! We need folks to step up and participate in committees and assignments and especially in local participation with chapters. Convince your management that you need to be active in the Society and convince your work colleagues to join the Society. Your experiences in Society operations can translate into enhanced expertise for your job and career.

What do you think is the most important issue facing health physicists today?

The Board has used the term "title protection" to identify the issue that is critical to the survival of the field. There are plenty of places now where a safety specialist or industrial hygiene specialist is assigned radiation safety responsibilities. Even if someone takes a one-week radiation safety officer class or some similar training, he or she may not really be prepared to handle a radiation safety incident that could present a risk to workers or the public. We need to work to ensure that the educational programs are in place, the funding for faculty and students is available, and the relationships with government and other industry groups support continued practice of good radiation safety. Those efforts will yield properly educated, trained, and experienced health physicists.

What do you think is the most important issue of concern to the HPS?

I would say the Society is struggling with an identity crisis. Besides the title protection issue I mentioned above, there is the continuing decline in membership. Part of this is due to changing demographics for the field. For example, in power reactors, my background, there are far fewer professional health physicists now than a decade or two ago. It has to do with staffing—pressure to reduce costs that results in fewer staff members. Programs have matured, procedures are in place, and many activities are more standardized such that there isn't the need for professional health physics staff that there was during the nuclear plant expansion of the 1980s. On the other hand, we have seen a demand for more radiation safety personnel in the medical field, due to more diagnostic and therapeutic applications of radiation and radioactive materials. The Society needs to be flexible to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

Eric and Irene on their honeymoon cruise at Geiranger Fjord in Norway, 2016

Do you have any thoughts about being the first two-year president?

Fear! Actually, my president-elect year is winding down and the effort to visit as many chapters as possible is done. While that travel kept my wife and me away from home quite a bit, I truly appreciate the chapters (and there were many) who agreed to modify their schedules so we could make multiple visits in one trip. For example, last fall, in a two-week trip we visited seven chapters, mostly in the northeast. For the next two years, I hope to learn the ropes quickly and work with the directors and committees to make progress on the Short-term Goals and Priorities.

Is there anything else you would like to say to HPS members as their new president?

I have to credit my wife Irene for her support in helping me succeed. Besides accompanying me on most of the chapter visits and Society meetings, she is a terrific sounding board for ideas and decisions. Together we look forward to seeing friends at the meetings and making new acquaintances. Anything I can do to help you as a member of the Society, just let me know.

What is one of the most fun things you've done as a health physicist?

I enjoy hands-on work and so a couple of the more arcane jobs I was involved with during my career in the power plant included working on the temporary shielding crew (for worker dose reduction) and installation of nozzle dams (to support simultaneous refueling and steam generator inspection). Temporary shielding involves a team responsible for placing 18- or 27-kilogram lead blankets on components or on scaffolding to reduce dose rates inside the plant, usually in containment during outages. We'd install many tons of lead blankets at the beginning of the outages and then remove and box them at the end of the outage. It was tough, hard physical work but all it takes is a before-and-after radiation survey to show how effective this ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) concept can be.

The nozzle dam job was very different—we were a team of "management" volunteers who trained to install these heavy components into the primary reactor coolant pipes and then remove them at the end of the outage. The job involved jumping into the steam generator primary channel head through a 40-centimeter diameter manway while wearing respiratory protection and plenty of protective clothing, sometimes a bubble hood, installing (or removing) the nozzle dams, and then jumping out. What made it unique was that the dose rates inside the channel head were typically 0.04 to 0.10 Sv/h, translating into a limit of only a few minutes inside the channel head to complete the task. I picked up the majority of my life's occupational exposure during these outage jobs. It was always amazing to me that we'd spend up to six or eight hours prepping for a four- or five-minute jump. Timing (and rigorous mock-up training) was everything. We typically experienced the highest dose rates anywhere in the power plant—1–2.5 mSv/min.

Eric and Irene with the two "little reds"—grand-daughters Sybil (left) and Phoebe, March 2019

What do you like to do in your down time (do you have any down time)?

My wife Irene and I bought a house about a year ago, so our down time is working on the house. We've done some significant remodeling and have plenty yet to do. We also have a large lot that demands a lot of yard work but fortunately, Southern California weather makes working outdoors usually very pleasant. Other than the house, we do enjoy the local beaches, an occasional bike ride, or a visit to the not-far national parks like Yosemite or Zion or the Grand Canyon. And of course, California means movies, wine, and all sorts of outdoor activities.