On a Mission for Rad Education

Andrew Walker steps onto the lid of a Holtec UMAX spent nuclear fuel storage module and extends a hand holding a Geiger counter toward the mesh of the outlet air vent. The instrument has been clicking and those clicks increase the closer the instrument gets to the vent. Then they steady. Walker looks at the instrument screen.

“Looks like it topped out at 450 counts per minute (CPM). That’s pretty low and about what I’ve seen just in antique stores,” Walker commented.

And Walker should know. Through his Radioactive Drew YouTube channel, Walker has combed antique stores, train stations and nuclear testing sites looking for signs of elevated radiation levels in places expected and unexpected.

Andrew Walker
Andrew Walker aka "Radioactive Drew" at SONGS.

One video (see below) shows Walker receiving old aircraft turn and bank indicators by mail order. Even while still in the mailbox, his Geiger counter hit 2,500 CPM, more than five times the reading he got from the outlet air vent standing six feet above about 28 tons of spent nuclear fuel.

“I’ve always been interested in radiation since I was told about it as a kid. But it took me watching a video on YouTube about how one guy collected a bunch of radioactive antiques and some uranium ore samples before I went and got my own Geiger counter. This was a little over six years ago,” Walker said.

His passion for making videos and exploring radioactive locations would eventually collide into the Radioactive Drew channel, one that hosts 36 videos and has nearly 1,000 subscribers.

“The idea for the Radioactive Drew YouTube channel was an idea I’ve had in my mind since I started learning about the subject of radiation and radioactivity,” Walker explained. “I was approach by a reality TV producer that had worked on Pawn Stars about developing a TV show around what I was doing. That eventually fell through when COVID hit. So, I took it upon myself to make my own channel and produce my own content, which is really what I wanted to do in the first place.”

Walker says the reaction has been very positive (though he does get an occasional negative comment from some when he focuses on contaminated sites, perhaps thinking they don’t need the attention). He says people seem very interested in the subject matter and more than a couple have mentioned that they, too, went out and bought a Geiger counter after seeing his videos.

“When I’m out shooting videos most people are extremely curious about what I’m doing. Most people’s first reaction is one of hesitation because they don’t know much about the subject. But I take the time to explain how radiation works and that the levels I’m dealing with are very low compared to high activity sources. I also let them know that I find radioactive items everywhere and that it’s not as big of a concern as some people make it out to be,” Walker said.

Walker speaks with SCE's Jeff Carey about the Unit 3 spent fuel pool, which is empty of nuclear fuel. Walker's colleague Colin Rich captures the moment.

During his recent visit to San Onofre, Walker toured the general site, stopping to see the progress made from more than a year of intense dismantlement work. Then it was on to the now empty Unit 3 spent fuel pool and the dry fuel storage systems.

“My impression of SONGS was one of amazement. Not only was it incredible to be there and meet the people working at the facility. But it was also amazing to see the inside of the structure and encounter different areas with their own set of procedures to gain access to them,” Walker said. “I also found the levels of radiation I encountered to be extremely low. Which runs opposite to what most people are told of a place like SONGS.”

View the SONGS segments below or on the Radioactive Drew YouTube channel.

(Posted June 21, 2022; Updated July 7, 2022)

Video 1: Inside the Decommissioning of SONGS

Video 2: Inside San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Fuel Pool and Spent Fuel Storage