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General Atomics Sends Critical Tool To Japanese Nuclear Workers

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Aired 3/25/11

General Atomics Sends Critical Tool To Japanese Nuclear Workers

A local defense contractor donated entire supply of radiation measurement device.

Workers at the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant in Japan have received an essential tool that will help protect them from over-exposure to radiation.

Dose-Gard, a radiation measurement dosimeter from San Diego-based General Atomics.
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Above: Dose-Gard, a radiation measurement dosimeter from San Diego-based General Atomics.

General Atomics, a San Diego-based nuclear-physics and defense-technology firm makes the Dose-Gard, a device that measures the radiation level people are exposed to in a nuclear incident.

The dosimeter as it is referred to has an alarm that sounds before radiation crosses acceptable levels. The defense contractor shipped its entire supply, hundreds of devices, to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant.

Tom Knochenhauer, product manager at General Atomics Electronic Systems, said the dosimeter will protect technicians, firefighters, military personnel and others.

“The first responders would be issued these, they would wear them on their belts typically and it would read the radiation dose that they receive. If they’re above the threshold, those workers would not be allowed to go back into the area then, so it protects their health in that way,” Knochenhauer said.

The levels are read every few hours, or at the end of a shift. He said the Dose-Gard is capable of reading levels as low as one-hundredth of a rem, which is the equivalent of radiation exposure from an X-ray, and as high as 999 rem, which would be fatal.

Since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which led to the crisis at the nuclear-power plant, demand for such dosimeters has skyrocketed.

“There’s been a huge response. We’re making them as fast as we can, we’re working overtime and we’re paying premiums to suppliers to get goods in as soon as we can to make more,” Knochenhauer said.

Until recently, the bulk of the sales for the company’s device had been within the U.S., with the Navy being one of the largest buyers, aside from agencies connected to domestic nuclear-power plants.

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