[ RadSafe ] Re: NYC Bans Geiger counters!!!

stewart farber radproject at sbcglobal.net
Wed Jan 30 12:10:16 CST 2008

This thread made me think of a funny happening. True story.

"Long ago [1975!!]  in a land far away" I was doing an informal, 
extracurricular radiation survey around Boston with a buddy from Boston 
Edison. We were using a high pressure ionization chamber [10" diameter 
sphere under high pressure Ar gas fill]. This unit was used routinely in my 
work in environmental rad measurements at the time around nuclear plants.

This  unit was very sensitive to slight variations in gross gamma at 
background rates. Easy to document differences of a few tenths of a microR 
per hour between locations.

Unit sort of like the old RSS-111 from Reuter Stokes --drawn aluminum boxes 
about 1 foot square, a bit more than a foot high --connected by a cable. My 
friend and I had gone to a bunch of spots around Boston one early evening 
which we knew would have elevated background due to granite used in their 
fabrication or construction: Bunker Hill Monument [it was after normal 
visiting hours and closed so we had to climb a short fence to get inside the 
stairs leading up it: don't try anything this in NYCity soon], the Christian 
Science Church, a granite sarcophagus from an ancient Egyptian princess on 
display in front of the Boston Museum of Science, steps of the Mass. 
Statehouse, etc. Just  a bunch of interesting spots around Boston , measured 
for our amusement.

We then decided to make a measurement at ground level near the Prudential 
Tower [the central offices for Boston Edison were there at the time] and a 
second reading at "The top of the Hub" -- a very neat glass walled bar 
looking out over Boston on all four sides [it was dark so the view was quite 
nice] 50 or so stories above street level. To get to the top floor we had to 
board an elevator in the lobby carrying the two aluminum boxes for the rad 
monitoring system connected by the cable from the ionization chamber box box 
to the main electronics & stripchart [at the time] recorder box.

As we boarded the elevator --it was evening, and not many people were 
around, a security guard rushed over to sternly ask us what we were doing 
and what was in the suspicious looking boxes.  The two boxes were connected 
by a 3/8"or so diameter cable, with metal carrying handles on top that 
looked a LOT like the plungers on the devices used on boxes in old movies to 
generate a current to blow up dynamite charges.

I told the guard, without hesitating, and quite accurately that  the device 
we were carrying was "A high-pressure ionization chamber".

He looked at my friend and I with a strangely puzzled look on his face, and 
said OK you can go up. He never asked for ID or any explanation of what we 
were going to do with this surveydevice. My friend and I had a good laugh on 
the elevator about the guard taking it on faith that a "high pressure 
ionization chamber" was not something we might blow up or release spreading 
"ionization" all over the place like some kind of weapon.

For what it's worth, after making good stable measurements at a dozen 
locations all over Boston [all showing doubling, tripling and more of normal 
background due to the use of granite in construction], the recorder was 
jumping all over the place at the Top of the Hub restaurant and bar. We 
could not make a stable reading there.

Later discussions with the maker of the unit [not Reuter Stokes, but a 
company I had hired to make several units with special features [including 
one with a magnetic tape data recorder in one unit to measure annual turbine 
shine dose at the boundary of Vermont Yankee documenting that the plant did 
not exceed a VT State limit of 5 mR per year incremental exposure] led to 
the realization that these units at the time had magnetic reed switches. The 
top of the Prudential building, a few dozen feet above the restaurant,  was 
covered with microwave relay dishes. The scatter off the microwave dishes 
was tripping the magnetic reed switches in our instrument, and making it 
impossible to make a reading of background radiation. The most interesting 
thing from a radiation protection point of view at the Top of the Hub would 
be what kind of microwave exposure workers and the public were receiving 
there. Maybe someone has some non-ionizing survey equipment they could take 
there if they are visiting Boston. Great place to go for a drink and the 

Stewart Farber, MS Public Health

Farber Medical Solutions, LLC
Linac, Medical, & HP Instrument Brokerage
[203] 441-8433 [Office]
[203] 522-2817 [Cell]
[203] 367-0791 [Fax]
email: radproject at sbcglobal.net
website: www.farber-medical.com


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Vernig, Peter G." <Peter.Vernig at va.gov>
To: "Mark Sonter" <sontermj at tpg.com.au>; <radsafe at radlab.nl>
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 9:49 AM
Subject: RE: [ RadSafe ] Re: NYC Bans Geiger counters!!!

Many moons ago, long before 9/11 I had to do an installation and fly
with an ion chamber.  I also had a few hand tools, nothing exciting, no
box cutter.  Pliers, crescent, wrench, screw drivers, that sort of
thing.  I took I it in carry on so I could explain not wanting it to get
stopped and not put on the plane if it worried them.  Security guy did
not even bat an eye at the ion chamber but was very concerned about the

Know what made him happy?  A business card........................... 

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