Answer to Question #10720 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
When I flew home from Detroit to Portland yesterday, the passenger who sat next to me in the airplane was a nuclear power plant inspector. He told me that he had just finished an inspection work in Toronto.
My concern is could a nuclear power plant inspector pass some radioactive material onto me from his contaminated clothes? If yes, what's the risk? I have small kids at home and am very concerned.
Most everyone is fearful of radiation based on the media commonly reporting radiation as bad news. Therefore, you have raised a good question which others may also wonder about. As a career specialist in radiation safety, I would like to provide information that may help set your mind at ease. Despite using large amounts of radioactive material to generate electricity, nuclear power plants are kept very clean. By this I mean that these plants have radiation safety staff. Their job is to assure that contamination with radioactive materials is kept very low or zero. Thus, a nuclear plant inspector should not come in contact with any radioactive contamination. If such contamination is a possibility, the normal practice is to wear protective clothing in the contamination area. This clothing is then removed when returning to a clean area. The likelihood of an inspector getting contamination on his personal clothing is essentially zero. To verify that clothing is clean, before leaving the nuclear plant, each person is monitored to assure there is nothing on his/her clothing. Part of an inspector's job would be to assure that this monitoring is done carefully.
The bottom line is that you would not have picked up any contamination from sitting next to a nuclear plant inspector on the airplane. Likewise, you would not have carried anything home to cause radiation exposure to your children.
Ray Johnson, MS, PSE, PE, FHPS, CHP