The idea of an RMC was conceived by Mr. Gilkenson, President of Philadephia Electric and Dr Chamberlain, Chief of Radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. This was in the mid 60's. They were riding back and forth together from Philadelphia to Harrisburg when they were on the Pennsylvania Governor’s Committee to Explore the use of Nuclear Energy.
Among other things, the committee discussed the problem of accidents in Nuclear Power plants. A question that came up was: “Does there exist the medical capability to handle complex accidents involving trauma, radiation exposure and contamination ?” The notable thing was that even the old AEC had not paid much attention to this problem when they were promoting nuclear reactors. After some exploration, Chamberlain concluded that no one medical institution in PA had at the ready all the equipment, facilities, and personnel handle such an accident.
Dr. James Brennan, a retired Army Medical Officer and Radiologist had just joined the U of PA as a Professor of Research Radiology. He had been involved in the Manhattan Project, was previously the first Director of AFRRI [Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute], and was one of the top Defense Department consultants in the effects of radiation on humans. He put together the mission and the outline of a medical/health physics organization necessary to augment the U of PA medical capability to handle such accidents. Philadelphia Electric Company put up the original money to explore the feasibility of this organization.
About that time I [REL] had just resigned from the Army Medical Corp and was a radiologist who had done research in radiology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and studied under Dr. Brennan. I was particularly interested in radiation accidents. One of the PA Use of Nuclear Energy committee's recommendations was that the person who headed this organization should also be qualified to be a member of the U of PA medical staff.
In June of 1968 I was an Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Brennan called and invited me to Philadelphia to discuss the idea. I was offered the job of putting together the organization. I moved to Philadelphia in September 1968.
My initial input included:
The organization had to be separate from the U of PA but closely related with its professional staff, teaching at the U of PA, and interacting with their laboratories and radiation technology groups. The idea to be separate from the University was the belief that if we put the organization in the University it would soon get caught up in various other University activities, attentions would be diluted, and the organization would not be ready when needed.
Accidents would likely be rare, and therefore one center could effectively handle a wide area and many reactors.
Even though there was the enthusiasm, the will, and the money to develop the organization, to hire the best professionals available in Health Physics, medicine, Radiochemistry, and to buy the best equipment, I still felt accidents would be rare and after a few years of boredom and inactivity would take the professional edge off the program. Something else besides “waiting for an accident” was necessary.
I presented the idea to Mr. Gilkenson and Dr. Chamberlain that we should be set up as a profit making corporation. An organization that would be good at responding to accidents that are likely to be rare (I hoped) should also be able to keep busy by using our excellent talent and equipment to prevent accidents and to provide other necessary consulting and services to nuclear utilities. And, this side activity would help defray the costs of maintaining the accident response capabilities. Both agreed.
In Oct 1968, Mr. Gilkenson invited the Presidents and Chairmen of the eight PJM nuclear utilities (PA, NJ, and MD) to a Union League Club meeting in Philadelphia to present the idea of one Radiation Medicine Center for all of them. Most of these PJM utilities were investigating or planning to build and operate Nuclear Power Plants. The idea was accepted and all 8 companies agreed to divide the expenses to develop and support the organization.
Sydney Porter Jr. CHP, the first Director of Radiation Safety at AFRRI, and hired there by Dr. Brennan, and was hired in late 1968 [as a consultant to PECo] to organize the non-medical support needed by the future RMC for accident response. Syd asked Abraham Goldin PhD [then at the US PHS Winchester Laboratory] to submit a design for a Radiochemistry laboratory and Frazier Bronson [then at AFRRI, as the Head, Counting Laboratory] to submit a design for the radiation assay facilities.
The company was incorporated in February 1969. As of April 1, 1969 the following were on board as RMC Employees:
Roger E. Linnemann, MD - President
Sydney W. Porter, Jr., CHP - Vice President
Bernard [Red] Geehan - Corporate Secretary
Frazier L. Bronson - Head, Radiation Laboratory
Joe Orolin - Technician
Sandy Cohen - Secretary
With respect to RMC’s primary mission – medical emergency preparedness, we were very successful. Emergency Medical Assistance Programs [EMAP] were set up at 32 different nuclear sites, about ½ of the NPP sites in the US. Each NPP site had a local hospital functioning as the Primary Care Center. There were 2 Definitive Care Centers, where the serious cases would be handled; Hospital of the University of PA in Philadelphia, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago IL.
During the first 20 years there was only had one big accident - TMI, where we performed well. I saw 5 employees who had received external or skin exposure just barely over the limits. There was another little-known accident involving a Hydrogen explosion at Millstone NPP where several people were injured and sent to the hospital. The patients were properly treated for their injuries, which was the primary goal of the EMAP program. Both the contamination and radiation exposure of the employees was small. Also during RMCs operation, I personally had referred to me about 150 cases of actual overexposure to radiation, or perceived overexposure. Only three required active medical intervention. One was a thumb and forefinger exposure from manufacturing industrial radiography sources. One was an iodine uptake from a radio-pharmaceutical lab. The 3rd was a man with a polonium lung uptake.
Syd Porter was the leader of resolving the 3rd item in my “initial input” analysis above: finding something else productive to do besides “waiting for an accident”.
For emergency response, we had excellent radiochemistry and radiation measurement facilities, a mobile Whole Body Counter, dosimetry measurement systems, portable radiation measurement equipment, calibration equipment, and people qualified to use them. The natural application was to support the rapidly expanding Nuclear Power industry. This was done by providing input for licensing NPPs, performing consulting and field measurement tasks, designing and managing Radiological and Ecological environmental monitoring programs for these NPPs, collecting and analyzing samples from these environmental monitoring programs, and providing mobile WBC services.
Eventually the laboratories were conducting very comprehensive Radiological Environmental Monitoring Programs for 6 operating NPP sites, and initial studies at about a dozen more sites. The Radiological Laboratory grew to become the largest non-government laboratory in the US.
The Ecological group, about 70 experts in performing ichthyological studies, came on board at the request of Philadelphia Electric. They were doing work from within the company and needed a home outside of PECo.
In 1975 we opened up our first branch office in Chicago, headed by Frazier Bronson. That group was responsible for Professional Consulting and Technical Services. The group eventually grew to about 50 people in 4 cities [Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, and Denver]. They were performing D&D measurement and consulting services, designing and supplying Whole Body counters, providing WBC data review services, operating several mobile WBCs and mobile laboratories, and providing radiation safety service contracts.
These “non-waiting for an accident” duties had greatly expanded the size and capabilities of RMC. We had grown to approximately 150 people in 6 different locations, with about $2M per year in income. This indeed made us more capable of handling these accidents, as we had many more tools and talents than were originally envisioned, and had the ability to quickly absorb additional “accident” responsibilities. The RMC response to the TMI accident was an excellent example. Sydney Porter was out there several hours after the accident, and Frazier Bronson was there within 48 hours with our mobile laboratory; most of the early official effluent results were from our analyses, and we showed that the dreaded I-131 just wasn’t present. We were already doing the normal Environmental Monitoring program, and this was quickly expanded to double in size. We eventually staffed a large transportable laboratory there for the D&D activities. While the measurements were going on, I and the other medical staff were heavily involved with interviews and “training sessions” with the media.
While this growth was performed with very high technical and scientific quality, our abilities to manage the finances of this were not so good. The nuclear industry was changing. A major part of our lab business was Radiological monitoring programs, and our PJM customers were happy to have the excellent programs we designed and operated. But then the NRC published a Regulatory Guide that spelled out an “acceptable” program, which was very much smaller; eventually low cost “but acceptable” won out and that business declined. The TMI accident halted construction of new NPPs, which also caused the reduction of uranium prices. Both of these greatly reduced the number and the size of environmental monitoring programs. We were not very good at adapting to these changes and were not making money. We were the largest of the three big commercial radiation labs in the country, and all were struggling. We needed a totally different business model to continue as an organization. Neither I nor anyone else in the organization had the business acumen to redirect RMC. However, the nuclear utilities and I still wanted to maintain the EMAP program. Canberra seemed to be the best fit. They essentially wanted our excellent lab and the excellent staff. So it was sold to them; the deal was completed in 1983.
I went along for a few years, and directed the EMAP activities. These EMAP programs needed and benefited from being closely associated with laboratories and the HP staff. But EMAP was not really a business model; it was more a "medical practice" in my mind. So eventually Canberra agreed to sell back to me the EMAP business in 1984, which I named “Radiation Medical Consultants”.
I am proud and happy to have been associated with RMC. I believe we were pioneers in developing Emergency Medical Assistance Programs [EMAP] for nuclear reactors. This included the plans, procedures, equipment, and supplies needed to handle patients properly at the plant, in the ambulance, at the local hospital emergency room, and finally at the center in Philadelphia. I believe we were ahead of the AEC and the NRC. At one time we had 39 reactor sites across the country that we were supporting with our EMAP contracts, from Texas, California, Illinois, Vermont, Georgia, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and many other states.
As years went by the industry became better and better in radiation safety; there seemed to be less and less a need for the business of RMC and the EMAP program - a prediction I made in the beginning. The nuclear utilities gradually set up and operated their EMAPs locally. The developments in medicine made it such that medical centers today could pretty well handle the accidents from plants. A major accident with lots of casualties is perhaps questionable, but then the Government would step in.
Besides performing its major mission, I think RMC was a good resource for new technology and good PR for the nuclear industry. I remember anti-nukes looking at RMC and saying "Well at least the Nuclear Industry did one thing right."