Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Radiation from Japanese Reactors Detected in Idaho

The company I work for put out the following communication today:
As expected, the extensive environmental monitoring program at and around DOE's Idaho Site has detected minuscule amounts of radioactivity associated with recent releases from the damaged Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan. The results are consistent with the detection of radioactivity that has occurred in other locations around the U.S. and with results from the state of Idaho monitoring network. The amount of radioactivity detected poses no health concern.

For perspective, the radiation doses by people in the eastern Idaho area from the Fukushima nuclear facility releases are a small fraction of those received each day in the U.S. from natural sources of radiation -- such as rocks, bricks and the sun.
They also provide a set of links to various blogs and monitoring reporting stations, both inside and outside the Department of Energy, providing additional information to the public.

The most illuminating information provided comes from the Idaho State Department of Environmental Quality. Go here and take a look at the chart on this page. Notice that the beta particle radiation they're tracking -- as is the EPA -- hasn't spiked much at all since the reactor disasters. Note especially the high readings early in the month of March -- before the March 11 earthquake -- where radiation was much higher than the readings being seen now.

In other words: Nothing to worry about, folks.

Beta particles are high-energy electrons or positrons shot out of the shell of an atom as it seeks to decay into a stable atom. Such particles can be stopped with a simple sheet of aluminum foil. They're not to be joked around with, however, as they can cause DNA mutations and are used in medical applications to kill cancer cells. They're not the most dangerous type of radiation out there, but you still wouldn't want to mix them with your peanut butter.

It is good to note, however, that a University of Idaho nuclear engineer employed by the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls is calling on the US to send experts to Japan to help Tokyo Electric Power rein in the ailing reactors. He's making these recommendations based on his knowledge of Japanese crisis control methods versus American ones -- he is of Japanese descent, so he knows of which he speaks. DOE has already responded by sending 40 technicians with their equipment to Japan to help out as they can. They're also gearing up to send a radiation-detection robot to help.

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