Saturday, May 30, 2009

White man’s disease

I just got back from the skin cancer clinic. Here in Australia, due to high insolation, outdoorsy lifestyles, and pale skin, the skin cancer rate is 1700 per 100,000 of population. That’s almost 100 times the global average of 19, and is a ratio that some of us like to simplify to 1.7%. I don’t have figures for geologists, but we tend to exceed the population average in all three of the above categories, so they can’t be good.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a geology department without at least one skin cancer survivor. Luckily, this year I seem to be clear, for now. But it is still a significant career risk factor, and if y’all to any field work at all, it is something to consider.

And I reckon it is a risk that is underemphasized. In 2007, when we were drilling for uranium, we had huge regulatory constraints involving dust levels, masks, dosimeters, filters, scintillometers and associated paperwork. Now, exposure to radioactive elements is obviously a bad thing, but at the same time we were working for 13 hours a day underneath a gigantic unshielded nuclear explosion.

As it turned out, the only detectable dose we recorded was on the radiation badge that a driller chucked in his hand luggage and sent through the X-ray machine at the airport on the way home. But after a few days on the job, a number of people were showing obvious signs of sunburn. Ors company regs require all of our employees to use sun protection, but there isn’t any way to do the same for contractors, other than ask nicely.

In fact, it makes me wonder. On a per megawatt basis, is the cancer risk from sun exposure inflicted by building and maintaining solar power stations greater than that from nuclear power?

1 comment:

Chris Phoenix said...

Heh. Obviously coal is a worse health and cancer risk than well-run nuclear, but I hadn't thought about solar radiation in solar plants.

I'd guess that constructing a nuclear plant would require enough construction-worker type hazards to balance out the overall health risks of solar plant construction and maintenance - especially since the exercise gained from walking around a larger-area solar plant would tend to improve worker health.