View Full Version : How do you decontaminate a radioactive V bomber?

17th Dec 2012, 17:41
Just curious having noted from the recent book 'Out Of The Blue' that 2 x Victor SR's were used for radio active cloud penetration/sampling.

Agaricus bisporus
17th Dec 2012, 17:45
Er...wash it? How else?

The "V bomber" itself won't be "radioactive", it will just have contamination on it.

OK, you don't use a geiger counter to check for dirty spots when you wash a car, you just look for them. Some bits that won't come clean will need replacing but otherwise its much the same.

17th Dec 2012, 19:02
Forget the V-Bombers used for the A bomb test, I believe all V-Bomber cockpits are now "out of bounds" because of the (very slight) radioactivity from the luminous instruments and Health and Safety brigade now ban visitors from entering them.

17th Dec 2012, 19:09
Doesn't the Victor on display at R.A.F Elvington do taxi runs a couple of times a year?

Agaricus bisporus
17th Dec 2012, 19:40
I'd have thought the V force was built well into the age of electrically illuminated instruments. Certainly this fatuous bolleaux has been associated with some WWII types, the Duxford Lanc being one.

It is deeply depressing that people so fundamentally ignorant of the facts can be allowed to make such idiotic decisions, Beta radiation is stopped by a sheet of paper or a few centimetres of air. No way it can get through the glass face of an instrument.

Who gives these oxygen thieves their worthless jobs?

17th Dec 2012, 20:38
I'm not qualified to comment on the main thrust of this thread but, for the sake of accuracy, I should point out that A B's description of the penetrating power of beta radiation is wrong. It is alpha radiation that can be stopped by a sheet of paper or a few centimetres of air. By comparison, it would require a few millimetres of aluminium, for instance, to stop beta radiation.


Agaricus bisporus
17th Dec 2012, 21:07
Well, as I've been caught in flagrante spouting bolleaux here is a clip from the dreaded HSE on the very subject to make amends.

Recent inspection activity in the aerospace and industrial radiography industry has revealed that those engaged in the restoration of vintage civil and military aircraft are largely unaware of the radiological risks involved in their work.

Many aircraft, but mainly those built before circa 1950, have instrument dials luminised with radium paint. Dose rates on contact with these instruments can sometimes exceed 200 μSv h-1 β/γ (e.g. Seafire fuel gauge) and dose rates in the pilot's position may be as high as 15 μSv h-1 β/γ (e.g. North American Harvard). If the instruments are taken apart there may also be a significant contamination risk and, in enclosed cockpits or storage areas, radon exposure may be significant.

A risk of significant radiation exposure to those restoring, maintaining and flying such aircraft, and those visiting museum cockpit exhibitions, therefore exists although, for the most part, those carrying out such activities are unaware of those risks.

The HSE will be exploring ways to further publicise and research the problem. In the meantime the following steps can be taken to reduce likely exposures to levels which are as low as reasonably practicable. In all cases, however, the advice of a suitable radiation protection adviser should be sought.

1. A risk assessment should be undertaken and a radiation survey of the instruments and cockpit should be performed. Where dose rates in excess of, say, 2.5 μSvh-1 β/γ exist at the pilot's position, steps should be taken to reduce radiation levels and/or prohibit access by members of the public. Simple measures such as replacing the instrument glass with a thicker variety (provided there is no likelihood of contamination), or the replacement of switches etc. with newer types, may be reasonably practicable.

2. When not in use or installed in the aircraft, instruments should be stored in sealed plastic bags. Checks for loose contamination should be undertaken when the instrument is overhauled or fitted in the aircraft. Where large numbers of instruments are stored together checks on radon levels will be appropriate.

3. When maintaining or overhauling instruments care should be taken to avoid the spread of contamination or possible personal contamination. They should only be handled when wearing appropriate gloves and, where there is evidence of paint flaking, a simple dust mask should also be worn.

4. If it is decided to replace the instrument and to dispose of the radium luminised item, a specialist company must be used for the disposal of radioactive waste. There are only a small number of such companies operating in the UK, these include: Safeguard International Ltd (01235 435795) and Active Collection Bureau (01795 437001). There are currently some difficulties over the disposal of radium in the UK and some delay in disposing of the item may be experienced, and it may be necessary to store the items in the meantime.

18th Dec 2012, 08:52
Why am I not dead?

18th Dec 2012, 09:24
Don't plant your bum on any Cornish granite then. Amazing how many civilisations around

the world have survived and thrived while living amongst what H&S would have you believe

is dangerous doses of radiation/radon gas.

The radiation level on wartime instrument panels causing cancer came via the fact that the

instrument makers used to lick their brushes when painting the dials/hands/numbers etc.

Mouth cancers were not uncommon with such close contact.

Hardly surprising under the circumstances!

"In Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states (Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah), where the uranium content in soil is abnormally high, and where the high altitude reduces the amount of air above that shields people from cosmic rays, natural radiation is nearly twice the national average; but in Florida, where the altitude is minimal and the soil is deficient in radioactive materials, natural radiation is 15% below the national average. Thus, the radiation exposures in the highly publicized incidents are about equal to the extra radiation you get from spending five days in Colorado. Of course, millions of people spend their whole lives in Colorado, and as it turns out, the cancer rate in that state is 35% below the national average. Leukemia, probably the most radiation-specific type of cancer, occurs at only 86% of the national average rate in Colorado, and at 61% of that rate in the other high-radiation Rocky Mountain states. This is a clear demonstration that radiation is not one of the important causes of cancer."

Natural Radiation is just that - natural. Jobsworths in H&S should justify their draconian regulations IMHO

18th Dec 2012, 09:28
Radium 226 was used in radioluminescent paint until the 1970's. Ra-226 is an alpha emitter. As StainesFS rightly points out, a sheet of bog roll can stop alpha radiation.

An issue with Ra-226 in cockpits is that, although alpha radiation is stopped by pretty much everything, older paint formulations tend to flake and become dusty. If the dust is breathed in, then you have energetic alpha particles in direct contact with the lungs, with the associated genetic damage.

Illuminated dials are behind glass, so they're pretty safe for everyone except dial restorers. The threat is from unprotected paint on surfaces such as switches.

The half life of Ra-226 is around 1600 years. On consumer products, for a time Ra-228 was added, a beta-emitter with a half-life of under 6 years. It made dials look much brighter for their first 5 years of life.

But for big bits of tin flying through radioactive clouds, as already stated the solution is simply to hose the things down. Hosed down a couple of buildings last year for exactly that reason.

The US used Sr-90 in paint for deck markers for a while. Sr acts like Ca, so binds with bones. Of course, as with pretty much everything else, the biological half-life (the time any particular atom remains part of a human body) is around 70 days, so a single exposure is unlikely to do any harm.

18th Dec 2012, 10:34
Our Victor at Elvington is indeed a runner. And nothing in the cockpit glows menacingly... :rolleyes:

Load Toad
18th Dec 2012, 12:44
Dock leaves..?

sled dog
18th Dec 2012, 16:46
Many years ago, working in a North African country, now under new managment , flew two trips a day for a month from a country further south ( with an extra G similar to Guy Gibson`s dog ) 40 tons a time ( B707 ) of uranium ore up to desert city. As far as i know i do not glow in the dark.....:p

19th Dec 2012, 05:15
Out of interest, didn't they use some Canberras for cloud sampling too?

19th Dec 2012, 05:29
At Finningley we just used to wash the beasts - by hand. Mind you we wore these funny dosimeters things, which were collected and recorded after the event. Oh we got rubber gloves and were issued with clean denims afterwards. (I still glow in the dark) :ok:

19th Dec 2012, 16:10
Interesting how an aircraft could become contaminated. Norseman CF-GSK (http://1000aircraftphotos.com/NorthernCanada/1237.htm)

On September 12, 1962, DOT Canada notified that the aircraft is a complete write-off. Details not available. Robert H. Noorduyn suspects that the aircraft was found to be contaminated with a radioactive substance.

In a conversation with Bob before his death, he informed me that GSK had been used to transport pitchblend drill core for several years while working for Uranium Corp. Bob stated he was 99% sure the airplane was written off because of radioactive contamination of the airframe.

20th Dec 2012, 11:54
Out of interest, didn't they use some Canberras for cloud sampling too?.. indeed they were.

Some years ago I was involved at RAF Aldergrove/BIA with the selling/leasing of some more MoD land to the airport. Talking to an aged Irish fireman about various sorts of contamination, he recalled when the sampling Canberras returned there (23 MU there was the Canberra MU) for "decontamination".

"And how exactly did you do that?" sez I

"Sure we just towed 'em onto the grass yonder, and just hosed 'em down!"

20th Dec 2012, 14:16
Those people need to get out more, they have far to much time on their hands dreaming up better ways to panic the community.

Radon gas, will indeed collect in significant amounts inside enclosed, 'UNVENTILATED' spaces.......solution, simply open the windows as several local authorities recommend in areas were ground radon emissions have been documented.

As for Instrument dials making people glow in the dark, as has been pointed out earlier, considerable amounts of the substance would need to come into close contact, i.e. licking paint brushes, for it to be of any significant danger and those involved in maintainance on these legacy instruments are well aware of the problem and take the required precautions, the simple expedient of spraying the face with a clear water based plastic coating to seal the original paint would do the job.

Seriously though this subject was aired in depth last year regarding minute 'TRACE' readings currently being washed up on a beach the results of disposal of instrument dials in the local area, the same scare mongering went on then by people who by virtue of there position should have known better but could not resist the tempation of getting there names in lights.

20th Dec 2012, 23:57
Still got the remnants of a kit, drawn from stores some forty years ago, for redoing instrument needles that had lost their luster. The vial on the left contains the varnish, centre the radioactive whatever, and right a diluting solvent. Used it to paint the hands on my new kitchen clock a couple of months ago - doesn't 'alf glow well in the dark.


Dan Winterland
21st Dec 2012, 01:14
As quite correctly stated, the contamination risk is from materiel producing Alpha particels. This can just be washed off and crews were encouraced to fly through likely looking rain clouds to save the ground crew a job on return. On the ground, a decontamination process would take place which would be effective at removing most of the contamination.

21st Dec 2012, 18:58
The Victor SR2s involved in that role had relinquished the task to 27 Sqn Vulcan B2MRR aircraft by the mid-'70s.

In addition, the likelihood of significant contamination of the airframe from fission products had decreased significantly by then. Vented sub-surface test products resulting from containment failure were still possible, but that was about all. No atmospheric testing was conducted by any nation after 1980.

Nevertheless, as 'green' politics developed, the wash-down of even the tiniest level of nuclear contamination became an increasing political and logistical problem. Certain nations wouldn't accept the aircraft involved; others demanded that all decontamination wash-down had to be prevented from reaching the local drainage system and was to be collected and returned to the responsible nation....

Dan Winterland
22nd Dec 2012, 02:58
Thinking about the practice I described, I relaise now that the topic may still be quite 'sensitive' - so posts deleted/edited. But I can assure those who questioned it, from a postition of authority, that it was going on.

Some of the SR2s were flying through the fallout from the French tests in the mid 70s which were very 'dirty'. These were some of the last atmospheric tests ever done, the last being by the Chinese in 1980.

24th Dec 2012, 08:57
V Bombers flew at altitudes where radioactive dust - fallout from atmospheric testing - was widely dispersed around the planet. The aircraft were rarely washed and the aircraft exteriors were shabby. Most ground staff working in the hangars had a weekly change of denims. Those of us who worked out on the line habitually wore our parkas and they were never washed and, in addition, they were passed along as " pre-owned" cold weather gear when posted in and out. The actual risk from the aircraft was negligible, but the dust build up on the cold weather clothes was considerable. In 1968 a group of boffins from ARE arrived and our clothing was checked for radiation hazard. The result was that our beloved parkas were confiscated , sealed into steel drums and hauled away. (As the squadron wag put it "They're going to air drop them in E Germany, to poison the red hordes")

24th Dec 2012, 10:33
Yes I appreciate the 'you wash it' comments but suspect you've now got a contaminated airfield as well as the not quite so clean flying machine, also, in the Victors case, all that lovely radioactive air digested by those Conways, surely some glunk stuck in the engines

24th Dec 2012, 22:41
Well if you have no reason to go into a Victor intake, you have nothing to worry about...

And the Vulcan intake is too high to sniff, so stop worrying.

25th Dec 2012, 01:56
And the Vulcan intake is too high to sniffNot if you're standing on top of the wing with a brush and hosepipe. Just lean over the edge and "sniff" it.

Re: contaminated airfields. At Finningley we had a specially built pan for washing airies. It was gently sloping towards the centre where there was a drain that caught all the run-off. Suspect knowing MPBW it then joined all the other drains, and went off into some river somewhere. :E

Agaricus bisporus
26th Dec 2012, 16:45
And the Vulcan intake is too high to sniff

But not too high to "contaminate" with sacks full of silica gel!

26th Dec 2012, 22:16
My worry would be the air conditioning system. If the aircraft had to fly through a dirty cloud, how do you stop contamination entering the cockpit / flight deck via the air conditioning system. Even if the system turned off and the crew on oxygen, there must be contamination trapped in the intakes to enter the aircraft at a later date.

27th Dec 2012, 13:06
Nevertheless, as 'green' politics developed, the wash-down of even the tiniest level of nuclear contamination became an increasing political and logistical problem. .. indeed so BEags.

One visited AWRE many years ago, and part of the "leaving procedure" was to wash hands - rest of us was covered with er - coveralls!

Drill was:

1. Wash hands
2. Put hands into hole in wall
3. If green light, all OK - if red light GOTO 1.

Paper towels used - whether post "green" or "red" hand-washes - were put into a bin.

"You see them towels?" says long-suffering escort.

"They're now "low-level nuclear waste!" - and so were encased in concrete and deeply buried or whatever.

Elf 'n' safety gorn mad.......... :ugh:

Pontius Navigator
28th Dec 2012, 18:50
The dosimeters mentioned by Alison were common in the early 60s when the Vulcans spent most of the flight at levels above 400 and atmospheric testing was the norm.

I suspect some of it was a data gathering exercise for Concorde which would fly even higher.

The aircraft were all washed on the wash pan, thus concentrating any contamination but don't ask me what happened to the waste.

As aircrew we noticed that ATC also wore dosimeters but we sat behind a flimsy RAM blanket (allegedly) and flew in potentially contaminated air but were never issued with dosimeters. I wonder why.

28th Dec 2012, 20:21
we sat behind a flimsy RAM blanket (allegedly) and flew in potentially contaminated air but were never issued with dosimeters. I wonder why.
PN, V-Bomber aircrew were already determined to be dispensable, so wasn't worth the expense. I mean if they went out for real they weren't expected to come back. :D

9th Jan 2013, 15:20
I remember at Waddo, circa 65/66 we washed the Vulcans (which picked up radioactive atmospheric dust in flight) on a special area between two of the hangars. Lots of water and a solution of "industrial fairy liquid" applied with brushes! Everyone had a great time getting soaked and soapy, whilst wearing rubberised overalls which rejoiced in the name of "Zoot suits".
The run-off was directed into settlement tanks, the water eventually being sent into the drains, while the solid stuff which had settled out was collected and disposed of "somewhere".
There was one occasion when some medic/health persons tested some lumps of Wadpol (a sort of impregnated cotton wool) which had until then, been used for cleaning small areas. The resulting screeching from the Geiger counters led to the practice being hurridly banned.

10th Jan 2013, 12:39
The resulting screeching from the Geiger counters led to the practice being hurridly banned. The reason for the shabby finish on them. I too remember Zoot Suits, they were very unpopular out on the Line because one sweated like pig when wearing one. So, we all wore "previously owned" parkas, patched up with black bodge tape and previously owned Trogg Boots and second or third hand seaboot socks.

10th Jan 2013, 15:56
There are pictures of the Victor SR2s floating about that show the aircraft when they had sample filters attached to the front of the underwing tanks. As far as I can determine, only Canberras carried the sample filter shrouds before the Victor, and then of course the Vulcan B2MRR did on the front of converted Sea Vixen fuel tanks. After that the sample shrouds re-appeared on the VC10 (on an underwing pod) so I guess they will re-appear in due course under the ghastly Airbus.

23rd Jan 2013, 13:22
When I was on 27 we did the sampling from Midway and the aircraft were cleaned after every flight just to get rid of the oil and other substances stuck to the surfaces. This was to keep then clean and make it easier to decontaminate if we actually caught the cloud.
On our second detachment we thought we had and went through the 100% oxygen, no eating and full decontamination on landing, however we were clean.
Another crew the following day did hit pay dirt, their aircraft was hot and was decontaminated, but on the way home to Scampton it was decontaminated again at McClellan by the americans and I understand that it was still relatively hot when it got home.

25th Jan 2013, 12:55

I think it was Aroma 8 (possibly 9), I may have been the lucky boy who "dirtyfied" one of our arial carriages. I believe that we had to route home through Loring as a result.

Nothing matters very much, most things don't matter at all.

avionic type
25th Jan 2013, 15:18
Blacksheep were your "Zoot Suits " the old green Anti kerosine rubberised overalls beloved by we Jet Ground crew in th early 50s plus the excuse for not having shiney boots [rubber soled] because of parrafin contamination? they were lovely and warm in the winter and we got away with a painted squadron name across the back
Perhaps someone has the answer to all these contamination problems as I too spent the first 15 years of my life working on aircraft with these type of instruments and don't want to die as I'm only nearly 82 and in good health.:rolleyes::rolleyes:

25th Jan 2013, 15:23
I was told by a Vulcan flight test engineer at Woodford that a shower block was built to decontaminate workers after test flights had been conducted at high altitude during the period when Russia and the US were doing atmospheric Nuclear tests.

Tee Emm
27th Jan 2013, 11:03
[QUOTE]How do you decontaminate a radioactive V bomber]

Recommend you read "Sniffing and Bottling" : 1323 Flight and its successors. By Dave Forster. A fine book about the activities of cloud sampling by RAF Canberra bombers during United States hydrogen bomb tests in the Marshall islands of the Pacific in 1954. Decontamination of these aircraft is described in the book. See elsewhere in Pprune Aviation History forum about the book. Available on www.lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com) for a ridiculously cheap price of around $10

28th Jan 2013, 12:19
Avionic Type; I believe that Blacksheep and I shared the same sort of Zoots which if memory serves, appeared in the 60's. They were horrible black things with a fake fur collar! As B-sheep says, they were worse than useless, the wearer inevitably sweating so much that it was wetter in than out - regardless of the ambient temp. or humidity!

18th Apr 2016, 01:12
I remember in the mid '70s as an 18 year old engine mechanic, removing engines from 'hot' 27 SQN Vulcans at Scampton, in the hangar after they'd been washed. Our hands and denims were checked with giga-counters which went off the scale (the dirt and grime which accumulated around the engines attracted a great deal of contamination) We were sent back to the barracks to shower and change denims, when we came back we were checked again. If the readings were too high we were simply sent away to shower again and told to take the rest of the day off, they didn't know what else to do with us.

18th Apr 2016, 15:31
Bending the topic a little, weren't Varsities* used to collect 'samples' during the early tests in Australia?

If they were, they must have spent a longer time in the 'hot zone'.

*The name begins with 'V' and they did carry and drop bombs.

18th Apr 2016, 19:34
A Valiant effort , Ian 16th!

18th Apr 2016, 20:07
I spent 2.5 years at Lindholme on Varsities and 4 years at Marham on Valiant's so I recon I spent 6.5 years on V-Bombers :p

22nd Apr 2016, 20:26
What about cleaning ships then:

Contamination of USS Ronald Reagan During Fukushima Response Underreported (http://intpolicydigest.org/2014/02/06/contamination-uss-ronald-reagan-fukushima-response-underreported/)

goffered again
24th Apr 2016, 23:03
Can't tell you - I'd have to kill you.