Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2015-2016
That radical anti-nuclear rag the Wall Street Journal has revealed that nearly three-quarters of the United States’ radiation-monitoring stations have been turned off “because they don’t work.”
Operated by the US Environmental Protection Agency, 99 out of 135 monitors built to measure beta particles have failed and have been turned off, including those in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The EPA has blamed interference from cellphone towers and other stray electromagnetism for the failure of the monitors. The EPA said it did not know why some of the beta radiation monitors were still working, including those near Phoenix, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington, DC.
The same stations have RadNet gamma-radiation monitors, that the EPA said are not hindered by the interference. Since “almost all” radioactive substances that give off beta radiation also emit gamma radiation, the EPA said it could just rely on the gamma detectors.
Quoting unnamed nuclear experts, the Journal warned that, “In instances where only a beta [radiation] emitter is present, the lack of a working monitor could leave officials unaware of potentially dangerous levels of contamination.”
Strontium-90, one of the principle and most dangerous radionuclides spewed from reactor melt-down disasters, is one of the substances that emits only beta radiation. Nevertheless, John Griggs, Director of the EPA’s National Analytical Radiation Environmental Lab, told the Journal, “Not having the beta monitor is absolutely not a concern of ours.” However a 2012 EPA report concluded that gamma monitoring could not account for strontium-90 contamination, which could “cause large-scale public health impacts.”
Critics of federal radiation-protection programs warned that being able to specifically and quickly record the dispersal of strontium-90 would influence the nature and extent of evacuation and emergency response plans.
Radioactive substances that emit gamma and beta radiation are carried long distances by the wind in cases of major nuclear disasters, as occurred at Kyshtym, Russia in 1957, Windscale, England in 1957, Three Mile Island, Penn. in 1979, Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, and Fukushima, Japan in 2011.
Gamma ray-emitting materials are dangerous from hundreds of feet away, and gamma radiation penetrates concrete, steel, and bone. Beta particles normally move only several feet from their source but can penetrate the skin. As with alpha particles, the most dangerous exposure to beta radiation is internal, after it is inhaled or ingested in contaminated food or water.
Even in the face of the Journal’s revelation of broad failure of the monitoring system, the EPA’s director of radiation protection division said, “We can confidently say that this system is…fully operational now with the current monitors it has to detect fairly minute levels of radiation.”
A separate 2012 report by the EPA noted that 25 of its RadNet monitors were out of operation at the time of the Fukushima disaster, and were not providing any information on either gamma or beta radiation.
This 2012 admission by the EPA calls into question the oft-repeated assertion by it and other federal, state and logal officials that radiation reaching the United States from Fukushima was not a public health threat.
Source: Wall Street Journal, Oct. 19, 2015