Our next important monitoring health-related mission was to check the radiation levels outside the nuclear reactor in the aft section. “I’m getting used to seeing everything in red background light. I never saw a hemorrhoid look black before. They’re usually pink.”
“Wait until the first laceration, sir. Blood is black in red lighting.” Nichols checked the functioning of the Geiger counter against a small iridescent clock attached to the portable counter. It began emitting static noise. “I just push this button and the Geiger is calibrated automatically.”
We went aft to the reactor level of the engine room. The uranium fuel cells were located behind a huge black lead-lined door. Radiation levels fall with the square of the distance from the source. A safety arc had been painted some color on the ceiling, wall and floor. I couldn’t tell its color because of the ambient red light.
“Nichols go take your readings with the Geiger counter and call them out. I’ll record them.” I was damned if I was going near that room.
I recorded the levels at three separate distances from the reactor room door and was relieved that the faintly detectable Geiger readings were absent at the final marker where I was standing. We were about to leave when I saw some black dots moving. “Nichols, look over near the reactor room door. Those black dots–they’re moving.”
“You can ignore them, sir. They’re roaches. All Navy ships–even boomers–have ‘em.”
Three of the black suckers were two feet away from me. “Get the Geiger counter on those three.”
The Geiger counter screamed with activity. “Wow. They’re hot sir. Shall I squish them?”
“Hell, no. Then you’ll have to get rid of your radioactive shoes. Let me think on this.” I looked at my duty task check list. “The mess hall and kitchen. If I find one radioactive cockroach there we return to port.”
Nichols laughed. “The reactor room is sealed sir. You won’t find bugs of any kind in our mess. It’s against Navy regulations.”
“And engine room roaches are allowed?”
“No one can enter the nuclear reactor area where the bugs nest, sir. It would be a lethal set-up.” Nichols smiled.
“But the roaches survive in there and we do nothing about it.” I was still aghast.
“Correct, sir. Let’s check the kitchen and mess areas. I’ll bring the Geiger just in case but I can tell you we’ll find not one roach sir.”
My corpsman was right. The mess area and especially the food storage and kitchen were pristine and there was no sign of insect life. The Geiger counter remained silent and I double checked to make sure Nichols hadn’t just turned it off.
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