I Lost My Pants at a Blower Door Test
Everyone was getting impatient. I was getting nervous. Then, the security attendant flatly stated, “I need to confiscate your pants.”
By: Francis Conlin
Recently I conducted a blower door test at a “low carbon bridge to the future” nuclear power station. The morning had started at 6 am and at 19 °F; I’m from the south, so I was wearing my best (only) fleece-lined pants. I had been doing a lot of industrial and power plant air barrier consulting and confess that I wanted to claim to be the first person to do a blower door test at a nuclear plant (note that I’m not sure if this is true).
The power station has a maintenance building attached to, but not part of, the containment area. The main door between the containment and the maintenance building is huge. If they could air seal the attached maintenance building, they could simplify their routine maintenance protocol and maybe reduce the number of times the huge door had to be opened and closed. I had inspected the maintenance building previously and wrote a specification for air sealing.
Although the recently air-sealed building was not in the containment area, for security reasons, I had to walk with a plant escort through the containment area for about 2 minutes to access the maintenance building through a small side door in order to inspect where my fans would be set up. Everything looked great—this was going to be an easy test.
After my reconnaissance and exit back through the containment building, I had to pass through the no-nonsense security station to exit the secure area. I secretly named my security attendant “Rambo.” Primarily, I had to be checked for radiation. Apparently, according to Rambo, static electricity will build up on clothing and other items like hard hats, which tends to grab some of those “short-lived ions” out of the air, and the static charge is worse on especially cold days.
To test for radiation, there was a row of full body scanners (imagine life-sized gingerbread person cookie cutters). When I stepped into my giant cookie cutter body scanner, a screen in front of me showed an array of green lights that flashed on and off as seen on TV when the original Star Trek was broadcasting—which is about the same time that this plant was built. Everyone else passed the cookie cutter body scan test, but my green lights eventually turned red. I failed. It was then that I remembered that fleece was one of those items that tends to build up a static charge.
My cookie cutter body scan results were in the low millirems, so I was not too concerned. After all, I grew up in Oak Ridge, TN: the “Atomic City.” However, the plant’s strict safety protocol meant that I had to pass the cookie cutter test to get out. I was eager to get to a meeting I had scheduled with the plant director to explain what the blower door test was about and to answer the same questions everyone getting their first blower door test asks: Will it make my ears pop? How long will it take for the pressure to dissipate? Why do you need to put the fan in an exterior door? And I had been told that the plant director did not like to be kept waiting.
First, Rambo said to wait 5 minutes and that “it will probably dissipate and then we can try again.” Nope. Then, he sprayed me down with static-free spray. That didn’t help either. Then, I was sent to stand in front of an open door where there was a substantial breeze due to an exhaust fan somewhere behind that door. Nope. The gingerbread person scanner was still frowning on me. Then, I got to spend more time in the cookie cutter to get more detailed scanning.
Rambo said, “It looks like it is on your pants. Go back to the door, stand in the breeze, and shake your pants.” Nope. “Do it again and this time shake your pants like you mean it.” Nope. My plant escort was getting tired and joked that maybe the staff who checked me into the plant may need to give me a “scrub down.” Rambo said without amusement, “If we go there, I scrub him down.” Everyone was getting impatient. I was getting nervous. Then, Rambo flatly stated, “I need to confiscate your pants.”
This must happen with some frequency because there was a pile of hospital scrubs against the wall and a nearby changing booth. I lost my pants but found my freedom. I ran outside to the building where my meeting with the plant director was underway. When I got to the meeting, the director looked up and said, “I see you got pantsed.”
Fortunately, I got my van approved to be inside the plant boundary where I had my emergency coveralls and it had warmed up to 36 °F…so, not too bad. Oh yeah, and they passed the air leakage test with flying colors.
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