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Selecting The Right Consultants

Plexus-NSD understands that it can, on occasion, be difficult to scope out an action plan for addressing a radiological problem. If a facility has never had to meet such a challenge in the past, or if the problem is sufficiently complicated that routine solutions are not likely to comply with time or budget constraints, it may be worthwhile to solicit the services of a consultant. Examples of these types of problems might be license or permit renewal applications, closure guidance for outstanding audit/inspection findings, planning/engineering for any new installation or procedure that the radiation protection program must address, input on regulatory issues that may impact current and future decision-making, facilitating communications on technical issues, and exposure/dose assessments.

Unfortunately, there are many individuals and companies that are more than happy to market their expertise in these areas only because they own or know how to operate one or two types of survey instruments, because they wrote a computer program that involved the word “nuclear”, or because they used to work for a nuclear regulatory agency but in a non-radiation-related capacity. These people are successful, at least for a while, because their clients are usually unfamiliar with the services they are buying, and they have little, if any, conception as to whether the recommendations being offered have a reasonable chance of solving the problem at hand. History has shown that the use of these types of resources almost always results in unnecessary cost, and an increased risk of litigation and enforcement

When selecting a consultant it is important to make that selection carefully. To that end, we offer the following advice:

  • Stick to consultants or companies that have real – as opposed to self-professed – radiation protection/licensing professionals on staff. Avoid individuals with narrow experience and knowledge who do not have an adequate understanding of basic radiation protection theory and principles, but who will assure you that they are “every bit as qualified as any ivory tower health physicist”. They should be able to demonstrate their qualifications to you through appropriate and relevant education, training, experience, professional certification and references!
  • Look for consultants or companies that have experience in providing services for a site or operation with similar characteristics and similar radioactive materials as at your institution. The practical and regulatory issues associated with a university that possesses only an x-ray diffraction unit or an electron capture detector are quite different than for those institutions that possess bulk radioactivity for labeling and tracers, or high-curie content sealed sources. One way to find individuals with the specific experience you need is to call your colleagues at sites with similar programmatic issues as your own. Alternatively, legal counsel can often provide you with excellent advice and many times a referral.
  • Look for consultants with broad and diverse industry experience who can visualize the solution to a problem from start to finish. The use of consultants that do not have current and sufficient knowledge of industry, market and regulatory demands can result in excessive total project costs even if you are offered amazingly low hourly billing rates at the start.  (Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)
  • Beware of consultants who prey on the fear value associated with radioactivity and radiation in the work environment by over-scoping a project unnecessarily.
  • Seek consultants who maximize the use of standardized products (i.e., those that have been used successfully elsewhere) in an effort to keep overall project costs to a practical minimum.
  • When interviewing and selecting consultants, always ask for and call the consultant’s references. A long reference list is not necessarily a list of satisfied customers or even representative of the experience you are seeking.
  • Buyer beware!