In my debut post I shared the steps I need to complete to achieve my (somewhat dull) career goal of being a Radiation Protection Advisor. One of those steps that I promised I would write about is initially qualifying as a Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS).
I received my training from Public Health England in their Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards based just off the Clyde in Glasgow. Yes, PHE does operate in Scotland, despite the name. The actual training took just three days, but the distance from home of course meant I had to spend a day in Glasgow prior and a day in Edinburgh after the course. Got to make the most of travel opportunities!
We started the training with what I believed was horrifically basic nuclear physics. Having done a physics degree and had to sit through a similar overview as part of the NGN taught course, I didn’t find this part very e
ngaging at all. However, the training is open to any employer/employee who needs it, regardless of their industry and as such, a lot of the participants weren’t well versed in physics and maths. In fact the group of attendees was much more varied than I expected. There were medical radiographers, marine lab technicians, apprentice electricians, construction workers contracted to Sellafield, prison security contractors and perhaps most interestingly, a Royal Navy diver who completes underwater engineering and inspections for the submarine service (including the controversial nuclear deterrent) and two gents who work in the factory who produce astroturf for the FA. The majority of these use x-ray sources as part of security or non-destructive testing and measurement techniques. The staff running the course were clearly used to primarily x-ray users attending; when I described my lab containing unsealed uranium, thorium and technetium, they seemed a little surprised.
The course did cover all radioactive sources, sealed, unsealed and x-ray, and also included a look at the health effects of radiation doses and the extensive regulations surrounding radiation work. These are listed and discussed in great detail in the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 and associated Approved Code of Practice, should any of you be as avidly interested in all this as I am.
My favourite parts of the course were definitely what were called syndicate exercises and the practical exercises. Syndicate exercises were a group effort looking at scenarios pertaining to the designation of areas as controlled or supervised (i.e. how radioactive and hazardous the areas are and what level of precautions need implementing), risk assessments, dose estimates in accident situations and the associated legislations needed. These were a great way to apply the newly learnt information and prompted a lot of discussion. Practical demonstrations included a few tame exercises measuring radiation and choosing appropriate monitors, but again the course has a wide, non-specialist audience so I can’t complain too much. The most fun practicals were those we completed on the last day. We performed a mock audit on one of the staff, scrutinising his working practices. He got really into his role as an inept employee, I suspect he secretly wanted to be an actor growing up. We then orchestrated a contamination and clean up exercise, although with a simulant not an actual radioisotope. Probably a good job as the monitor used was screaming it was registering that many counts per second! Finally we had to find a lost (and real) caesium-137 sealed source hidden in an office. This required some planning to limit the dose exposure of each team member while being thorough enough to find and safely recover the source.
The course ended with an assessment. If you are considering doing this course, don’t panic. The assessment is open book and PHE provide you with a copy of the regulations, additional explanation of the regulations in course notes, handouts and model answers to all the syndicate exercises and homework sheets given at the end of each day. It’s also not a particularly hard exam science-wise, with only a few calculations. I should get my results in a few weeks at which point I’ll be able to announce whether I’m qualified as a Radiation Protection Supervisor or not. Exciting! At least it is for me.
As for Glasgow, I think it’s a beautiful city with a side of whimsy. The Wellington statue wears a traffic cone hat and in Kelvingrove Park there’s the best statue ever commissioned by an expat living in New York: a lion and a dragon tearing apart and eating an American bald eagle! The city also appealed to my inner glutton with great restaurants and bars making it definitely a place to consider for post doc life…