May 1, 2014
Q: Which is more dangerous, nuclear welding or underwater welding?
A: When we use the term nuclear in welding, often we are referring to the need for high weld quality. Nuclear welding can be carried out in a fab shop miles from a nuclear power plant or on-site during construction. In these cases, nuclear implies highly skilled workers doing welding that will be radiographically (RT) or ultrasonically (UT) tested to a very strict code.
Welds must be defect-free, and fit-ups need to be accurate and without added stress. Pipe and fittings should be manufactured in such a way as to be traceable, as do welding consumables such as electrodes and welding rods. To be a welder on a nuclear job site requires tremendous skill. A failed X-ray test costs a lot of money and probably the welder’s job.
Underwater welding conjures images of a diver striking a shielded metal arc weld (SMAW) on some moss-covered oil platform deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Like nuclear welding, underwater welding also requires a high degree of skill. It’s expensive to send a skilled welder to that repair, and everybody involved wants to fix it once and fix it right.
In addition to being skilled, the underwater welder also needs to be a skilled diver. He should be able to manipulate the welding electrode while dressed in an outfit reminiscent of an astronaut. He may work directly in the water, which is known as wet welding, or he could perform hyperbaric welding, or dry welding. In hyperbaric welding, a positive-pressure enclosure is attached to the hull of a ship. The water is then removed from the chamber, giving the welder a dry environment deep below the surface.
A combination of both processes is known as underwater nuclear welding. To complete a weld repair, the welder has to suit up and climb into the cooling pool that is filled with 100-degree water that is radioactively contaminated. Now that’s crazy and dangerous.
But I believe statistics show that welders with the highest chance of on-the-job fatality are ironworkers. Whether they’re working five or 50 stories high, ironworkers must walk an I-beam attached to a 6-ft. tether, dragging a “beamer” close behind.
It’s good work if you can get it, but if you find yourself in this job pay attention to your trainer and be careful. As my old boss used to tell us, “Somebody expects you home tonight.”
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