Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Atomic Man

The Atomic Man.   That was the destiny awaiting this young man seen here in his high school graduation picture.   I think that it's true what Forrest Gump's mother said that, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get".     I don't think that this young man knew what life's "box of chocolates" had in store for him.   Later in life he would become known as "The Atomic Man" as the result of a terrible radiation accident involving massive contamination.    
It was August 30, 1976 and he was working the midnight to 8:00 am shift at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant located in the state of Washington.  
He was 64 years old and had been working at the Hanford plant as a Chemical Operations Technician since the 1940's.  
He was a seasoned veteran at his job.   Working with glove boxes to extract radioactive Americium-241.   It was a very large glove box.

It might be hard to visualize just what a glovebox is and how it is used and so here is a picture of what a typical small one looks like.
The glovebox isolates the material that you may be working with if it is hazardous.
Harold McCluskey was working as a chemical operations technician at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant and more specifically in the Americium Recovery Facility.
             Hanford plant
At 2:45 am on that early Monday morning of August 30, 1976 when there was an explosion inside the glove box that Harold McCluskey was working at.
He was blown backwards and his gas mask was ripped from his face.   Pieces of metal and glass contaminated with Americium-241 were embedded in his face as well as breathing in Americium-241.   He also received a blast of nitric acid to his face which temporarily blinded him.   In a few seconds he had received 500 times the amount of Americium that was considered safe.   He was placed into isolation in the medical unit where they tried to decontaminate him but he was still radioactive, and thus became known as The Atomic Man.   He received free medical care for life and a settlement of $250,000 for his injuries.   He also received a life of radioactive contamination causing some of the townspeople to shun him.
There had been some speculation as to whether or not he might die from his radioactive contamination.   However, he lived another 11 years dying at the age of 75 from heart trouble.  An autopsy was performed and no cancers were found in his body.   He was buried in the cemetery of the nearby town of Prosser where he lived.

His wife Elladale lived for another 16 years after his death and passed away in 2003.
It is amazing how much an individuals life can change in a matter of a few seconds.   I was glad that I could find some pictures of Harold McCluskey to include in the blog to remind us that Harold McCluskey was not a fictional character but a real person who undoubtedly had the same ambitions and hopes that we all have.   Let's not forget this individual and his story.
For a similar story of another individual do an internet search on The Radioactive Boy Scout or David Hahn and an absolutely fascinating story (real life) will be revealed.
                 David Hahn
              David Hahn
Have a good day of surfing the internet for interesting articles to read.    Lew



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