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Help please with OCD and radioactive material

  1. Feb 23, 2005 #1
    Im trying to get over OCD, maybe someone can help me with some irational fears. I hate to change batteries in my smoke dector because a stray chunk of radioactive material might have come loose. #2 Ill never wear a watch with tritium on the hands because, well it just freaks me out. #3 I drive the long way around limerick power plant because maybe something fell out of a truck during trasnport and i dont way to run it over and have it stick to my car or the smoke stacks look ominous and maybe some radioactive steam leaked out. I know im silly about this, but maybe an expert can tell me just how silly it is to worry all about this. P.s i also wear special old sneakers and clothes when i have to go to any hospital because i once was walking down the hall when a women was wheeling a metal box with the big yellow radioactive symbol on it. Thanks for all the help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2005 #2


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    Morbius! Get here and tell F Gump just how silly it is to worry about all this.
  4. Feb 24, 2005 #3


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    F Gump,

    First, the radioactive material in smoke detectors is Americium-241.
    Am-241 is an alpha emitter. That is the type of radiation that Am-241
    emits is a particle called an alpha particle. It is the nucleus of a
    Helium-4 atom without the 2 electrons circling it.

    Because it doesn't have its electrons, an alpha particle has a net charge
    of +2. Therefore, it interacts very strongly with matter. That strong
    reaction is a double-edged sword. The strong reaction causes the alpha
    particle to deposit its energy very quickly - energy which can cause
    damage. The flip side is that because the alpha particle loses its energy
    so readily; it has a very short range - it doesn't go very far.

    So here's the real good news. Alpha particles are stopped by a piece of
    paper. An alpha particle can't even get through the dead layer of skin
    surrounding your body!! Your own dead skin shields you from alphas.

    So an alpha-emitting radioisotope like Am-241 can't hurt you if it is
    external. The Am-241 is also in an enclosed area of the smoke detector
    that you aren't going to disturb when changing the battery.

    So by all means - keep that smoke detector supplied with good batteries.
    The good that the smoke detector does by being "on guard" to warn you
    of a fire - totally SWAMPS the virtually non-existant risk of the use of
    the radioactive material.

    You have tritium falling on you ALL the time when you are outside!
    Tritium is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere by interaction
    of particles from the Sun and atoms in the upper atmosphere.

    Not a chance! First, the stuff that goes into a nuclear power plant is
    no more radioactive than when it was dug out of the ground.

    Secondly, at present - we don't ship radioactive material like nuclear
    waste out of the plant - it all stays in the plant at present. Even when
    we finally decide to ship the waste out for permanent storage - the
    waste will be shipped in containers that are the strongest we know how
    to build. They've been tested for their ability to survive any accident -
    like a collision with a train. Courtesy of the Sandia Nationa Laboratory
    that tests these "spent fuel casks":

    http://www.sandia.gov/recordsmgmt/ctb1.html [Broken]

    which shows an experiment in which the cask on its flatbed truck was
    parked across a railroad track. Sandia strapped rockets to the diesel
    locomotive and slammed it into the cask at high speed. The diesel "lost"
    in that collision. The only damage to the cask was cosmetic.

    For a video of the test, see:

    http://www.nei.org/doc.asp?/catnum=2&catid=83 [Broken]

    The box was shielded - so you needn't have worried.

    Also, when you see a warning sticker, a warning sticker of any kind;
    not just the radioactive symbol - that means that people are taking
    the proper precautions, and handling things properly.

    There are people with OCD similar to yours whose fear is "germs" [ like
    Howard Hughes ]. But we all know that germs are all around us.
    Humans evolved in a world full of germs - and we evolved an immune
    system to attack them so they don't don't damage us.

    Well, the world is also full of radiation and radioactivity - most of it
    is there naturally. Courtesy of Idaho State University:


    Since we evolved in a world full of radiation - we also evolved with an
    immune system that deals with radiation also. Courtesy of Lawrence
    Livermore National Laboratory:


    This research shows that we have an "immune" response to radiation.
    Additionally, small doses of radiation actually stimulates this
    protection mechanism - and helps us ward off damage by larger doses.

    In other words, small radiation doses work like a vaccine. In a vaccine,
    you give the person a small amount of the virus or bacteria that you
    want to ward off, the body's immune system attacks and destroys this
    small amount of pathogen - and the immune system is all "primed" to
    handle a larger onslaught by that same pathogen.

    The body's response to radiation is much the same way!

    The problem today is that we have a media that, in its quest for
    sensational stories; "hypes" non-issues and scares everybody.

    ABC's John Stossel did a very good piece on "Nightline" serveral years
    back called, "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?". It essentially took
    the media to task for hyping "scare-stories". They get ratings - and
    people like you pay the price in a diminished quality of life - because you
    live in fear; and because we have to forego technologies that could give
    us all a better quality of life.

    Courtesy of PBS's "Frontline" program called "Nuclear Reaction", here's
    the transcript of an interview with a psychiatrist that discusses nuclear


    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  5. Feb 24, 2005 #4


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    F Gump, having worked with nuclear materials, I have been exposed to more radiation in a year than you will be in lifetime, and I have years of exposure, including handling of various radioactive sources and nuclear fuel, and exposure to neutron sources and beams. I am quite healthy.

    On top of that, I have handled a variety of hazardous chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides, and a variety of laboratory chemicals, and I still show no ill effects.

    The towers at Limerick are cooling towers, and that is clean water vapor coming from the top. The cooling water is taken from the river/reservoir and collects heat from a closed circulation loop from the condenser in the plant. In a BWR like Limerick, the condenser in the plant keeps the reactor cooling water seperate from the cooling tower water.

    As for tritium in watches, it is likely in the form of a metal hydride, and if so, the tritium will not come out of the watch.
  6. Feb 24, 2005 #5
    Thank you all for you time. I do feel better. Alot of my fears are hyped up from media and maybe horror movies. Just the word" Radioactive" has a little bit of a scary sound, and the yellow symbol is also part of the scaryness of it. But thank you once again. I do feel better.
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