Nuclear Construction

I suspect I’m not legally insane. I had to go through a full psychological evaluation in order to get through the gate at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Forked River, NJ.

They were hiring for an outage, and had an ad in the newspaper, taking people for janitorial jobs (mopping the floor of the plant to keep radioactive particles down during a phase of heavy construction, transporting decontamination suits, ect.). They were also hiring unskilled non-union labor for other things like safety watches, fire watches, ect.

When I was hired in, it took a week for me to get inside the gate of the actual plant. Every morning, I had to report to a big warehouse in the parking lot of the nuke plant, and they’d process the information of applicants, taking names, giving full medical screenings, sitting applicants down with FBI agents who’d go through the applicants entire criminal record. They also wanted 10 references, phone numbers, emails, how long you’ve known them. All this to qualify for a temporary position to mop the floors for 30 days. But, at least they were paying you to undergo all this.

On my fifth day of processing, I was taken to a small room and given a multiple choice exam that read things like this:

Which do you prefer the most

a) being with friends and family
b) being alone
c) masturbating while being asphyxiated
d) going for a walk with significant other
e) Christmas

What accurately describes your childhood

a) locked in a 55 gallon drum
b) happy, healthy, fun
c) boring, isolated, not fun
d) participated and excelled in many community activities such as any of these; little league, Boy Scouts, Pop Warner football, ect.
e) I liked to kill animals with other animals I’d killed.

How do you view others?
a) generally trustworthy
b) they steal my food and air
c) we are all part of a bigger team that seeks to improve society as a whole
d) walking, talking transporters of disease and illness that must be eliminated at all costs
e) they’re just pretty cool in general

There was a couple hundred questions like that, and then they showed me a bunch of ink blots.

“What does this one look like?”

Really, it looked like anything. All you had to say was:

“It doesn’t look like a pile of dead bodies.”

The next morning, I was sent to a new warehouse, that had been set up to represent the inside of part of the plant itself. I was taught the correct way to put on my decontamination suit, shown the proper way to enter a radioactive area, shown the proper way to exit a radioactive area and most importantly, how to strip out of my decontamination suit, so as to not spread radioactive particles all over everything.

After that, there was a few classes on how nuclear energy is actually generated. A few classes on the perils of radiation exposure, and how to minimize said exposure, also how to read the radiation monitor that I was then assigned.

Day 6, I was finally through the actual gate, finally entering the actual facility itself.

At the gates, guys with machine guns chewed gum and didn’t wave hello when you waved at them.

Inside the turn around trailer, where all the outage workers were kept. I met my contact there, who gave me paperwork to fill out.

“You’re Bud Smith?”

“Yup.”

“Hey! You won the safety award! They randomly drew your name out, and you get to pick from a list of prizes, color TV, digital camera, remote controlled car, laptop.”

“Nice.”

“You also won the check pool!”

I’d thrown in five dollars the second day I was in process, getting FBI screened and understood now, that I’d won $525.

It was all working out pretty well for me at the nuclear plant.

My boss came and found me that morning. A chubby man named Sam Gob. He said, “Ok, you’re going to be an FME safety watch during the outage. Which means you’ll sit in a chair next to this hole and anytime somebody goes down into the hole, you have to make sure they don’t have any pens or anything that can fall out of their pockets and land in the water (the Torus). Divers will be going down the hole and swimming around for a month, inspecting the floor. Think you can handle sitting in a chair for 30 days straight?”

“Sounds fine.”

“Here’s how it’s gonna go down, I have to go to a meeting now, then there’s a meeting after that to discuss the first meeting, what time is it now? 7am? Ok, we’ll meet back here at 2pm. See you then.”

“Ok.”

I sat down at the table and opened my newspaper.

“What are you doing?”

I shrugged.

“You can’t sit in here. You have to go walk around the outside perimeter of the plant and look busy til 2pm.”

That sucked. You had to keep moving. It was a constant shuffle between non-radioactive parts of the plant, stopping at vending machines, eating candy bars and drinking sodas to quell the boredom.

Every day was like that. 7am until sometime after lunch, just wandering around aimlessly through the nuclear plant, trying to look busy, having nothing to do.

But, when the meetings were over and Sam Gobb finally got me to my spot as the FME (foreign material exclusion) safety watch, things got worse.

It was just me in a chair, saying, “please take all the pens out of your pockets and leave them here with me.”

They didn’t want any pens or tape measures or ear plugs or anything falling into the water/equipment/reactor, whatever down below, through the hatch that I guarded.

Thousands of pens. Thousands of them, I was the keeper of all the world’s nuclear pens.

Everyone else in the plant appeared to be in the midst of horrible jobs, sweating like death in their rubber decontamination suits, duct taped at all the seams, I was sitting in a comfortable chair, though, occasionally harassing some Canadian divers to hand over their pens and take out their Canadian diamond earrings and all that. Sometimes some of the mop girls would come and keep me company, talking about things like “all this mopping sucks” and “oh, look at this, I need some more soap for my bucket. Oh joy!”

There was one other guy who was doing the FME safety watch. He was down the hall from me, I talked to him a little bit about the job once in the cafeteria while we both ate rice pudding and drank lukewarm instant coffee.

“Pretty boring,” I said.

“But, the plus is I got plenty of pens now.”

“True.”

“And I don’t care,” he said, “I just put on my headphones and read a magazine or whatever.”

“I tried to do that, they took away my magazine,” I said.

“That’s ’cause you’re over here in the limelight. Nobody comes down the hallway where I’m at.”

I shrugged.

The other FME watch didn’t make it much longer. The outage went on. The twelve hour days stringing together. My boss came and found me, sitting in the chair, surrounded by pens, he said, “They fired Johnson.”

“Who’s Johnson?”

“The other FME watch.”

“Oh. For what?”

“The president of the nuke plant caught him sleeping in a chair, listening to an iPod, a Hustler magazine on his lap …”

“Did they confiscate the magazine?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll need that back, that was mine.”

My boss didn’t laugh. No one laughs in a nuclear power plant. That’s the most definite thing I learned from working at one for 30 days worth of sitting in a chair, flirting with the girls who were bored from mopping up toxic waste, and while I munched candy bars from the vending machine. I must have guzzled a thousand sodas. That’s what nuclear construction is all about.

All that.

And if you’re wondering, I took the remote control car as my prize.

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9 Replies to “Nuclear Construction”

  1. “What accurately describes your childhood

    a) locked in a 55 gallon drum”

    Omg, hilarious! I love this blog post. 🙂 But, isn’t it, uh, hazardous to mop up radioactive particles??

    1. The floor is mopped continuously to keep the radioactive particles from being tracked everywhere. Everyone in the outage had a monitor that was bumped (downloaded continuously) to keep track minute by minute how high their exposure was. There is a set limit for the day/week/year. If you go above the exposure limit they pay you for the rest of your employment.

      Also, we used to try to “dirty up” our boots by kicking them around in crapped up radioactive areas to have the plant buy us new boots.

        1. Yeah, they pay you to sit at home if you get overexposed, until you can come back again when the time frame catches back up to OSHA standards.

          I worked in nuke plants a few times after that experience. Doing real construction. That’s where the boots thing played in.

          We were rebuilding the reactor. And opening up heat exchangers on the turbine decks.

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