Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A little "what if?" for shits and giggles

Stuff comes my way. I don't ask, or look for it. It just happens. Some of it is crap, some of it I enjoy but don't post, I like this stuff, though. I'm sure you all have asked yourselves at some point, hey, what would happen if I went swimming in a spent nuclear fuel pool? Hell, I've wondered the same thing. As it turns out, someone has the answer:
What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I stay safely at the surface?
—Jonathan Bastien-Filiatrault
Assuming you’re a reasonably good swimmer, you could probably survive treading water anywhere from 10 to 40 hours. At that point, you would black out from fatigue and drown. This is also true for a pool without nuclear fuel in the bottom.
Spent fuel from nuclear reactors is highly radioactive. Water is good for both radiation shielding and cooling, so fuel is stored at the bottom of pools for a couple decades until it’s inert enough to be moved into dry casks. We haven’t really agreed on where to put those dry casks yet. One of these days we should probably figure that out.
Ad it turns out, spent nuclear fuel in a pool is not very dangerous, except very close up:
Swimming to the bottom, touching your elbows to a fresh fuel canister, and immediately swimming back up would probably be enough to kill you.
Yet outside the outer boundary, you could swim around as long as you wanted—the dose from the core would be less than the normal background dose you get walking around. In fact, as long as you were underwater, you would be shielded from most of that normal background dose. You may actually receive a lower dose of radiation treading water in a spent fuel pool than walking around on the street.
I found this fascinating. The website I got it from answers all sorts of off-the-wall science questions that I doubt are addressed elsewhere. And, of course, this site deals with other potential answers that other sites might not think to address:
So, as far as swimming safety goes, the bottom line is that you’d probably be ok, as long as you didn’t dive to the bottom or pick up anything strange.
But just to be sure, I got in touch with a friend of mine who works at a research reactor, and asked him what he thought would happen to you if you tried to swim in their radiation containment pool.
“In our reactor?” He thought about it for a moment. “You’d die pretty quickly, before reaching the water, from gunshot wounds.”
So there you have it.

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