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June 02, 2005

Techcentralstation Piece Up.

Piece up at TCS today. As the sub heading has it:

Tim Worstall with a true story.

As if I ever tell stories that aren’t true.

Update. A reader of that article emails me with this similar and similarly true story. Sorry, no attribution:

True story - did not take place at my present place of employment.

You can buy TIG-welding electrodes which are made of thoriated tungsten. These are wire electrodes, perhaps 6" long and 1/16" in diameter, which contain a vanishingly tiny amount of thorium - it improves the arc-start. You probably know this.

At A Certain Engineering Company, the prototype shop used maybe a dozen of these electrodes a year. They are reground to restore the tip profile until perhaps an inch of electrode remains, at which point, the stub is discarded. A good welder can make an electrode last for months.

That is, until the Health and Safety boys got wind of it.

The cost of an approved radiation enclosure to store a box of a dozen electrodes was just the start of it. The engineer who pointed out that you could buy the same electrodes off the rack at Home Depot was told that he didn't have the right attitude.

Next, of course, the regrinding of electrode tips was Out-Lawed. Immediately. So the consumption of electrodes promptly went up 100-fold - it's like telling people they can't sharpen a pencil anymore.

The engineer (me) who demonstrated by practical example that a box of thoriated tungsten electrodes produced less radiation than the glow-in-the-dark hands on a Rolex wristwatch was also told he didn't have the right attitude. Why a Rolex? Because it allowed me to observe to the H&S folks that what they had spent up to that point was enough to put a free Rolex on the wrist of every member of the model shop staff, and money left over.

Then came the compliance process. Each and every electrode had to be logged, accounted for, tracked and properly disposed of.

At this point, the model-shop boss said 'screw it. We will no longer use thoriated tungsten electrodes. Out of my budget, I will buy the improved HF module for our TIG welder which mostly-mimics the added benefits of thoriated tungsten. The boys will just have to learn to weld with pure tungsten electrodes.' Which, they did.

Did that change a thing? Did it heckerslike. Every part of the process stayed in place and was fully enforced, and probably is to this very day. After all, they said, if any tungsten electrode, anywhere, was ever thoriated, then any tungsten electrode, anywhere, might be thoriated - even if it doesn't say so on the box. And you can't be too careful!

Health and Safety - it's the Star Chamber of our age. Impervious to logic and impossible to appeal.

Update II. Another story sent in. Sometimes nuclear waste is actually less radioactive than tap water.

June 2, 2005 in Techcentralstation | Permalink


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It should be noted, btw, that TechCentralStation is run by a Republican PR firm.

Posted by: Russell Hughes | Jun 2, 2005 9:16:51 AM

That and $2.00 will get you a cafe latte at Starbucks.

Posted by: dick | Jun 3, 2005 4:02:04 AM