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High radiation found in MIT nuclear worker

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is inspecting a nuclear reactor facility at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after the facility reported a high radiation reading for a worker, officials said yesterday.

"We are working with the [NRC] to determine the cause for an unexpectedly higher-than-normal reading from a single individual's radiation exposure measuring device," a statement issued by MIT Spokeswoman Pamela Dumas Serfes said. "All other employees' radiation exposure measurements for the same time period were normal."

During the measurement period from July to September 2007, the employee was exposed to 80 percent of the radiation dose that a radiation worker can safely be exposed to in a year, Serfes said. The worker has suffered no ill effects and "will not exceed the allowed dose for the year," Serfes said without elaborating.

"MIT places the highest priority on the safety of its faculty, staff, students, and the broader community," the statement read. "This situation poses no danger to public health and safety or to the environment."

The employee, described by Serfes as an operator, had a high reading of 4 on a dosimeter, worn by nuclear workers to measure radiation exposure. The reading falls below the NRC's exposure limit of 5 rem. Rem is a unit of absorbed radiation. A typical reading would be less than .5 rem.

MIT reported the readings to the NRC Oct. 17. The inspection by the NRC is expected to be completed in two to three weeks. An inspection report will be issued about 30 days after the inspection, NRC officials said.

The facility, which has 53 workers, is used for basic research in nuclear engineering, materials science and medicine, and performance of irradiation for industrial customers, Serfes said. It was licensed to operate in 1958 by the NRC's predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

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