Sunday, March 27, 2011

Radiation Monitoring in California: It's "Our Lifestyle" to Use Volunteers

It looks like we can't be too harsh on Japan's TEPCO or the government for not rigorously monitoring the radiation levels.

AP reports that the EPA's RadNet system, which "measures radiation nationwide through dozens of monitors that suck in air samples periodically and pump out real-time readings about radioactive isotopes", depend on volunteers, at least in California, which has two nuclear reactors on the seaside near the earthquake fault lines:


The EPA's independent watchdog, Inspector General Arthur Elkins, told the AP he is considering reviewing the agency's emergency response planning, including the agency's RadNet system.

The network, launched after the Cold War and upgraded following the 9-11 attacks, measures radiation nationwide through dozens of monitors that suck in air samples periodically and pump out real-time readings about radioactive isotopes.

The EPA's data, as well as samples that numerous federal agencies are collecting in Japan, is sent to the Department of Energy's National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center in California. Teams there check it against sophisticated computer models that predict how releases at Fukushima could spread across the Pacific.

To save money, EPA relies in part on trained volunteers to regularly change out air filters on the RadNet monitors and mail them to a federal lab in Alabama where the data gets a detailed analysis a few days later. Volunteers are also tasked with alerting EPA if something goes wrong with the machine.

"It sounds sort of loosey goosey, but we already operate our network on a very rigid schedule so we just sort of fit it into our lifestyle," said Eric Stevenson, a director of technical services who oversees operation of the monitor from his office at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District near San Francisco's domed city hall. "We've been operating this thing for years and no one has really said boo about it. Something like this comes along and all of us realize `Hey, gee, that's a relatively smart program.'" ........

The article continues to describe how some of the So-Cal monitoring systems were broken and the officials didn't even know about it.

Nothing to worry about, they say. They have enough data to cover the gaps like these. Sure.

By the time they get the test results back from Alabama, that's what, 1 week round-trip by regular mail? I would hope at least they use overnight express mail, but...nah that would defeat the whole purpose of cost cutting.

The EPA's site claims that the RadNet Air Program:

consists of 124 real-time air monitors. Continuously operating samplers collect airborne particulates on filters that are collected twice weekly and sent to NAREL for analysis. A gross beta analysis is performed on each air filter, and a gamma scan is done if the beta activity is greater than 1 pCi per cubic meter. Annual composites of the air particulates filters are analyzed for plutonium (Pu-238, Pu-239, Pu-240) and uranium (U-234, U-235, U-238).

How could it be a real-time monitoring system when they have to mail air filters twice a week to Montgomery, Alabama for analysis? I guess I must be hallucinating.


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