Folks, we appreciate your interest in the Radiation Network, and thank you for your support. You may send us an email, but we will not be able to respond to most. Instead, this Message page will address issues that you raise. So please read this page and the archived Messages in lieu of, or before emailing us. We update it occasionally, and it will answer a lot of your questions.
Update: 11/6/13, 6:30 A.M. - New Alert Level activated
The Radiation Network has been transitioning some new features in over the last few months. To review, we are an equal opportunity Network, i.e. almost any model of Geiger counter is welcome to contribute its readings. But most of us now know that not all Geiger counters are created equal. This historically presented a problem in establishing both a common and meaningful Alert level for stations on the network. In the past, we just used a simple 100 CPM level, however, that resulted in our "lower count rate" stations typically being 'left out' of most alerts, i.e. those stations would have to detect elevated levels perhaps seven times background before alerting. So we have now adopted a more precise Alert level which you can see foot-noted under the Map on the main page and repeated here:
3 consecutive minutes of the lesser of 100 CPM or 2.5 times a Station's baseline
The simulated Alert level symbol on the Map inset at right shows how a low count rate station can alert at less than 100 CPM, so be on the lookout for that. The idea behind requiring 3 consecutive minutes of alert level readings to actually issue an alert is to filter out stations exhibiting momentary spikes which usually relate to connection glitches and the like. In general, what really matters in radiation detection are elevated levels that are sustained. As the courtroom judge often says, "Sustained!"
Update: 8/21/13, 7:45 A.M. - Dangerously high Radiation levels at Fukushima
A Japanese news agency is reporting that readings of 100 mSv/hr are being emitted from leaking tanks of contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Let's put that reading in context. First of all, the dose rate of mSv/hr stands for milli-Sieverts per hour, or one thousandth of a Sievert/hr. In contrast, typical background readings at sea level approximate .1 ÁSv/hr, expressed as .1 micro-Sieverts/hr. The micro-prefix stands for one millionth, so if my math is correct, the readings of the leaking water therefore amount to 1 million times normal background levels!!!
Beyond the obvious point of the story, what I would offer is that when communicating readings of radiation levels, it is not enough, and is even irresponsible to report just a number, like 100. The number must always be accompanied by the applicable unit of measurement, such as 100 milli-Sv/hr or 100 CPM. And in this business, decimal places also matter. I pass on this reminder because in the early days of the Fukushima disaster, it was common for readings to be mis-reported. By now though, most of us understand that radiation dose levels can be expressed in a variety of units.
Update: 8/10/13, 8:00A.M. - Recent Radiation Detections/Alerts
For the record, I am posting graphs and descriptions of a few recent alerts over the last couple of weeks. The Anchorage station on July 25th was operating an Eberline model with pancake tube, set up outdoors and shielded from direct sun. The station operator is not sure of the cause for the steady rise in radiation levels, indicating that weather conditions were particularly hot and sunny during the elevation. Otherwise, the graph pattern resembles that often generated during passing storms.
At left, the Greensboro, NC station was operating a standard tubed Monitor 4 on July 28th when his average background count of 10 CPM gave way to a 3 minute surge of 352, 545, and 760 CPM, then just as quickly subsided to normal levels. This pattern could be explained by brief handling of a radioactive sample, or momentary passing of a human still radioactive from a medical test, but the operator claims neither. Logistically, his detector is facing out a second story window toward an airport, with clear skies at the time - cause unknown.
Then just yesterday, August 9th, the Williston, ND station broadcast an alert, exceeding 200 CPM against his normal background of 49 CPM. He operates the PRM-9000, an ultra-sensitive pancake tubed Geiger counter. No feedback yet from the operator as to an explanation. In case it is relevant, Williston is ground central for the recent oil boom surrounding the rich Bakken geological formation.
On a related matter, many of you email for an explanation of the chronically high reading in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey area. This is a station located in Philadelphia, running the high count rate Inspector model. The station's average is, and has been from the beginning, about 59 CPM. This is unexpected - near sea level, the Inspector would normally read about 35 CPM. Thus far, I have still received no response from the Philly station.
Update: 5/12/13, 9:00A.M. - Radiation Network Graph for All Stations Combined
With the steady growth of the Radiation Network, we now have a sufficient number of real-time contributing Monitoring Stations to make Network-wide averages meaningful and statistically significant, so we have started tracking them.
The example graph here covers almost one month of activity at this point.
You can see that we record the Number of Stations making up the average, both their Raw count and their Equalized readings, whether they are Pancake models, and the average Altitude of all stations.
While the Radiation Network has contributors from across the globe, most of our Monitoring Stations are located in the US. We will add that statistic.
Here are some examples of what we hope to glean from this Network-wide average:
For instance, look at the network-wide spike at the beginning of May. While the reason for that (which is kind of embarrassing) is a software glitch that bunches two minutes of activity into one at each monthly rollover, that nevertheless serves to demonstrate the kind of graph pattern that can clue us into a genuine elevated radiation occurrence.
The real time graph, updated hourly, can be found on our Graph page. I recognize that this Network-wide averaging attempt is not a perfect representation from a technical standpoint, but it's something, and it's a start.
Follow-up: The recent Update of the Radiation Surge in Texas generated a very interesting and informative email response, paraphrased here with permission:
"I previously worked at a nuclear weapons plant as
a senior physicist and am familiar with the products assembled and
disassembled at Pantex. The observing station may have seen a
release of tritium, H3, gas. The decay process is beta with an
energy range from 0 to about 18KeV. This is low energy and easily blocked.
They should check the local weather report for wind direction. If it's
coming from the Pantex plant, then that's the likely culprit.
Fortunately, hydrogen disperses rapidly in air and does not react readily with
body chemistry. You can breath it in, but nearly all will come back out
during the exhale. H3 in the form of water is a different story as much of
it will be absorbed." (and when questioned about a beta source from
outdoors being detectable through the walls of a home?) "You would
see tritium in the air as it will pass through the house in the normal
fashion. With a high wind, the tritium cloud would disperse and pass
quickly. (Pantex) may have released it from dismantled weapons thinking
the strong wind would disperse it quickly and nobody would notice. That's
just a guess."
On April 13th, at 8:57 PM local time, one of our stations in North Texas recorded a 3 minute surge in readings. The cause is unknown. The station's normal background is about 40 CPM. He operates the ultra-sensitive Inspector Geiger counter, indoors on a second floor near a window, at his elevation of 3,000'+, so that 40 CPM average is expected.
But the surge came seemingly out of nowhere, first rising to 87 CPM, then 119, then spiking to 177, before immediately dropping back to normal levels. The station operator indicates no one was outside passing by, and that the highway is 2 miles away. His theory - that "a radioactive particle... got stuck to the window and then blown off - winds are very strong right now".
I would add that this elevating pattern, in the middle of continuous monitoring, and spanning 3 minutes, tends to rule out a connection glitch or the like, so this Alert seems real. In case this is relevant, the same station recorded a half hour of elevated readings a few months back - scroll down to the Update: 11/24/12 - where we pointed out his 25 mile proximity to the Pantex nuclear weapons facility.
Update: 3/16/13, 12:06 P.M. - Good Morning, Vietnam!
One of our Maine based Monitoring Station operators recently traveled to to the Far East, and was broadcasting from Vietnam. She was located very near Ho Chi Min City (formerly Saigon), and was operating the standard tubed Radalert 100 Geiger Counter. While her readings while in Maine are rather normal, averaging in the teens, she was recording elevated levels in Vietnam generally, even triggering the 100 CPM Alert level occasionally.
Notice also the ebb and flow of the readings over the course of 3 days of mostly continuous monitoring. She is not sure of the reason, although the Geiger counter was logistically set up in a concrete structure. As to the very interesting ebb and flow pattern, that mystery remains to be solved.
There is obviously a lot to learn about radiation monitoring in Vietnam. We express our gratitude to the Maine station for broadcasting readings during her travel to the Far East.
Update: 2/13/13, 4:40 P.M. - Wild Ride in Minnesota
Over the last day, a Monitoring Station on the Radiation Network located in Grand Rapids, Minnesota (not MI), registered what could only be characterized as a wild ride. You can see in the graph at right that readings from this morning sustained 100 CPM for many hours today, until trailing off only late afternoon.
The station operator is out of town, but reports "nothing has changed in the setup and the location of the meter from before. The door was locked when left, and no animals in the room. We also just got 10" of fresh snow on Sunday night and Monday, so that could be causing it as well."
For other clues, this station has been among the most "active" since joining the network. He operates the ultra-sensitive, high count rate pancake tubed PRM-9000 Geiger Counter, and monitors indoors near a window. Scroll down to the 10/22/12 Update for history.
One of our members offered another theory that I would like to offer for consideration, without taking a position on it. Paraphrased - "Several of the recent alerts have come from locations near hydraulically fractured wells. Certain radionuclides, including Iodine 131, are among those used as tracers to map fractures. Tracers, in addition to radium, return to the surface with the flowback and gas. Wastewater is sometimes kept in evaporation ponds or dumped nearby. Could be a possible source." I find this theory especially interesting in attempting an explanation for Grand Rapids, since that station is located downstream of prevailing winds from the petroluem production fields in Dakota.
Update: 1/26/13, 8:30 A.M. - Map and Network Enhancements
As we approach completion of a new version of the underlying software that runs the Radiation Network, we are using that version to phase in some new features on the Maps and Network:
Update: 1/6/13, 10:10 A.M. - Radiation Alerts from Hawaii
One of our Monitoring Stations on the island of Kauai, at the western end of the Hawaiian Island chain, has been triggering Radiation Alerts for many days now, and the graph at left is an example of the type of activity the station is registering. We have been unable to obtain a response from the station operator, so we are not sure of the cause. The nature of the graph is such that the readings appear genuine, but we can not know without further investigation.
The same station operator has triggered radiation alerts in past months, and viewers can read about those in the Archived messages linked above. As is our policy on the Radiation Network, if we believe elevated readings from a station to be genuine, we typically "let it run", but at the same time, station operators are responsible for communicating over the network so that we can try to explain alert level readings. Without such interaction, the network reserves the right to disable such a station for the time being.
Update: 11/24/12, 9:00 A.M. - "There's something out there..." in the Texas Panhandle
Reported one of our Monitoring Station in Borger, TX, yesterday. His station, which is 40 miles northeast of Amarillo, witnessed elevating readings starting at 7:03 PM local time, November 23rd, and triggered the Alert system on our network, surpassing 100 CPM multiple times over a half hour period. The graph at right shows readings finally subsiding at 7:31 PM to his normal background count of 37 CPM.
As soon as the Alert was broadcast, our members immediately engaged the integrated Chat forum on the Radiation Network to explore the reason for the high readings. So first, a number of facts. The WTX station has been monitoring steadily since April of 2012. He operates the high count rate, ultra-sensitive Inspector Geiger counter, and sits it in a stand on the second floor of his house. There was no logistical change to the Inspector at the time the readings began elevating. A battery change was made 2 weeks ago, and the Inspector had been running perfectly. The Geiger counter readings themselves mirrored the counts being registered by the software. The subsiding of readings to normal after the alert indicates the Geiger counter did not malfunction, at least for good. The operator owns some radioactive samples, but claims they were secured away.
There was no rain or wind at the time, the jet stream was flowing far to the north, and no local earthquakes of significance that might release Radon, no solar flares of note (which probably wouldn't be localized, anyway), and no NRC events in the area. The operator knows of no radioactive persons or pets nearby that were undergoing medical treatment. Company at the neighbor's was leaving 20 minutes earlier, but had apparently been there before the incident. Anyway, the operator believes there were no persons or pets outdoors at the time, and the street was clear. The highway is over 2 miles away.
So where does that leave us? Providing the departing neighbors were not "radioactive", I would point out in case it might be relevant, that the Pantex plant is located 25 miles to the southwest. For those unaware, Pantex is a division of Babcock and Wilcox, and operates a nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility outside Amarillo. Here is a link:
Follow-Up: Radon daughters or Iodine-135?
The Alabama station operator points out that it is Iodine-135, also a product of nuclear fission, that has a short half-life, only 6.6 hours, thus placing it in the running for the isotope behind the fast decay rate on his rain sample. Without taking a position on this, I put it out there to generate discussion.
Update: 11/13/12, 9:10 A.M. - Radiation Sampling from Alabama
A new Monitoring Station on our Network, located in Scottsboro, Alabama, inadvertently triggered the Alert system yesterday while sampling the ground during a rain (2" above). Normal background radiation for that station, which operates the high count rate Inspector, is about 36 CPM. I reminded the station to disconnect from the network when sampling specific substances or environments. Or in this case, when sampling outdoors while plugged into the Network, to do so well above the ground. Notice in the graph how the readings immediately dropped closer toward normal background levels once the Inspector was raised a few feet off the ground.
This Alabama station is part of a group conducting multiple samplings downwind of Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, and we are very happy to welcome their contribution to the Radiation Network. In the operator's thinking, radiation brought down by precipitation becomes concentrated on the ground, therefore the reason behind the logistics of yesterday's test. He also scanned a wipe of wet dirt off his truck during the rain, and reports a very high reading - over 1,500 CPM, but which reading subsided to about 70 CPM during a follow-up scan 3 hours later. The sharp drop in readings point to a rapid decay rate of the offending isotope, which in my book, in turn points to Radon washout, although the station operator added that Iodine (presumably 131, the nuclear fission byproduct) also has a fast decay rate. I looked it up, though, I-131 half life is 8 days, which is longer than that of the Radon daughter products, I believe, that are associated with Radon washout.
For those interested in the science of what we are all doing, notice how the Alabama station correctly followed these steps:
This series of steps, of course, is what I call the "poor man's radioactive isotope identifier test", that can be done with the same Geiger counter that is used to find the original sample radioactive. The reading from the first radiation scan is interesting, but tells only half the picture. So when you see an Internet video out there posting 1,000 CPM reading of rainfall using their Geiger counter, ignore it unless the operator also broadcasts the reading from the follow-up radiation scan.
Update: 10/25/12, 10:30 A.M. - Radiation Alert in Wisconsin
A neighboring station to Grand Rapids, MN, namely Frederic, WI is experiencing the same elevated radiation levels as detected by Grand Rapids only a day or two earlier, the two stations essentially corroborating each other. At right is Frederic's graph from yesterday, showing readings at times exceeding our 100 CPM alert level. The region is experiencing a combination of rain, sleet, snow, and high humidity.
For context, Frederic is monitoring with the ultra-sensitive Inspector EXP. This model uses an external probe which he has set up outdoors. See the Update below dated 6/1912. Frederic is capturing precipitation samples which are turning up as elevated in radiation as the current environment itself, so after the weather system passes, and his environmental radiation levels drop to a normal 45 CPM or so, he will scan the same rainwater samples to see if the reading remains elevated as in the initial scan, or whether they have subsided.
Postscript: 10/23/12, 11:00 A.M. - As to the Grand Rapids, MN alert from yesterday, the station operator reports his PRM-9000 was sitting on the ledge near the wall in his bedroom within his log home - the pancake GM tube facing inward. One of our network members retrieved the Jet Stream forecast. Notice how the southern edge of the stream passed directly above Grand Rapids, Minnesota when the Radiation Alert occurred. It has been pointed out before that the fringe of the jet stream is slower moving than the fast center, allowing airborne particles to more easily fall out from there.
We've seen this combination before with other stations on our network - a sensitive Geiger counter, even located indoors, detecting rising radiation levels during a passing weather pattern or jet stream. I would add that for such a detection to be made by an indoor Geiger counter, the radiation would probably have to be Gamma, because Beta and Alpha particles are too weak to penetrate the walls of most structures, unless they could enter through a ventilation system or other portal.
So how do we know what the source of the radiation is? Hypothetically, the cause would typically be from either "Radon washout" or something more sinister like man-made nuclear reactor by-products. In a situation as this, the station operator could capture an associated rainwater sample or a fresh air filter intake, and subject them to the "poor man's radioactive isotope identifier" test. See the Update from 3/18/12 for details on that
The station operator added yesterday, "There also is some reports out that Reactor 4 in Japan has fuel rods that have caught on fire and radiation is going off the charts within 50 miles of Fukushima, but that is not confirmed yet as truth, and if that happened today, there is no way it could have gotten into the jet stream that fast and made it over here."
Update: 10/22/12, 5:00 P.M. - Radiation Alert in Minnesota
The Radiation Network has a contributing Monitoring Station located in Grand Rapids, Minnesota that is triggering Radiation Alerts as I write this, since about 1:00 P.M. local time. Until we receive feedback from the station operator, we have no reason to believe this is not a genuine detection of elevated radiation levels, and so as with our policy, this will be allowed to play out for the time being.
The graph shows steadily rising radiation from a normal background level of about 40 CPM, eventually exceeding the 100 CPM alert level on our network. We know Grand Rapids operates the PRM-9000 Geiger counter which is built around the same ultra-sensitive pancake style Geiger-Mueller tube as in the Inspector line of instruments. Without yet knowing the source or nature of the Grand Rapids radiation, I can say that particular model of GM tube has demonstrated at other times and across other monitoring stations how sensitive it is to passing radioactive weather patterns, even from an indoor monitoring posture. When we obtain more information, we will provide a follow-up report.
Update: 10/20/12, 1:00 P.M. - Radiation Alert in Oregon
In the last day, a new Monitoring Station in Eugene, Oregon triggered Radiation Alerts two different times, of quite high values. The graph shows the first alert, exceeding 1,000 CPM, while a later period witnessed a reading over 3,000 CPM. This station is operating a GMQ-200 Geiger counter, designed to detect Beta and Gamma radiation. Normal readings of background radiation by this model approximate 19 CPM.
The station operator had this input, "It was raining outside. My meter is on my window looking out and up. Then all of the sudden I get higher numbers up to 1,187 count. For about 2 minutes, it was crazy and then started to wind down."
The table of minute by minute radiation counts below does look like a genuine pattern of readings from a passing radioactive source. But from a later discussion with the operator, he believes the cause is a malfunction of his detector, and he intends to upgrade to a proven model like the Inspector line of instruments. It should be noted that there were no corroborating readings from our other stations in Oregon and Washington. It is true that this GMQ-200 model of Geiger counter is a relatively new and untested detector on our Radiation Network, so maybe there is an issue of data integrity out of the data port of the device?
Update: 9/30/12, 11:45 A.M. - Three Mile Island Driving Tour
Some of you may know there was a "steam release" at the Three Mile Island (TMI) Nuclear Power Plant on Sept. 20. The plant operator said there was first an automatic shutdown for an unknown reason, triggering the release of steam which normally runs the turbines, but upon the shutdown needed somewhere else to go. He added that there were "no detectable levels of radiation in the steam".
Fortunately, one of our network members is located only 40 miles to the east northeast of TMI, and on Sept. 24th, conducted a driving tour around the plant, setting himself up as a Mobile Radiation Monitoring Station, using a laptop computer with mobile broadband Internet, a GPS device, and his Inspector Geiger counter - all connected via the underlying Radiation Network software.
Three Mile Island is located south of Harrisburg, PA, and is so named because it is situated on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. Study the map at right, and particularly the red lined GPS trail. The driving tour began 30 miles east of the plant, and then proceeded on a circumnavigation of TMI, first up the east side of the river, then crossing well north of the plant, and finishing down the west side.
During the tour, his Inspector was available to outside air through an open car window. Meanwhile, the software was graphing the radiation counts (at left) for all of us to see in real time, while the GPS panel continually tracked his position. The image at right depicts the end of the driving survey.
Bottom line - according to a minute by minute data log during that part of the mobile monitoring survey closest to the plant, from about 12:50 to 1:00 on the east side, and 1:35 to 1:55 on the west side, there was no discernable and sustained elevated radiation level detected above normal background. The station operator indicated access to the island itself was restricted - "check points with personnel and white vans". However, he did plan to collect soil samples in the vicinity for later analysis.
This experience reminds me - after the famous TMI accident in 1979, a grass roots monitoring network was set up around the perimeter of the plant. That system was engineered by International Medcom, manufacturer of the Radalert and Inspector Alert Geiger counters, and for its day, served a valuable community service. While that could be considered a precursor for the "Radiation Network", today we have Internet connected personal computers which, through the underlying software, makes possible a fully automated monitoring system in real time (no manual posting of data required), readily available to contributors and participants, along with an early warning feature.
Update: 8/26/12, 1:35 P.M. - False Alerts
There were a couple of false alerts recently. On Tuesday evening, August 21st, a station located in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah recorded about 500 CPM for a couple of minutes, following sustained readings of 0 CPM. This was caused by an equipment malfunction. The station operator explained, "Sorry, my apologies. My system has been giving an occasional high reading and finally my GM tube died. This extremely high reading was the tube going out."
The second false alert emanated from a station located in Terre Haute, Indiana during the late evening of Friday, August 24th. Until the station operator unplugged from the Radiation Network, his readings approximated 200,000 CPM for a 5 minute period. From experience, readings this high almost always derive from some sort of glitch, because they would otherwise require extremely close proximity to a sizable quantity of high grade uranium ore, or to be in some proximity to a nuclear detonation, neither of which were the case.
The Indiana station is operating the standard tubed PRM-8000, one of the few models to offer true data logging, and the operator explained that the battery had died (after running since early June), and in replacing the battery, the instrument somehow reset to uploading historically logged data. However, the Radiation Network software interpreted that output as real time, treating the potentially days or weeks of historical data as all having occurred in a single minute - thus the very high reading. That's the theory anyway, and I was able to somewhat duplicate the anomaly using my own PRM-8000. This definitely falls under the category of a freak incident.
Sorry for the false alert. We'll see how we might modify the software to prevent this kind of recurrence, without negating its early warning feature. Having said that, it would be prudent for all station operators to unplug from the Radiation Network while performing maintenance on your detectors.
Update: 8/12/12, 7:25 A.M. - Breaking News! - Fukushima triggers run on Plastic Bags :-)
Yesterday, a monitoring station in Indiana broadcast an Alert over the Radiation Network, momentarily exceeding 100 CPM. Although set up indoors at the time, stormy weather seemed to be the culprit, until the station operator offhandedly mentioned that his Inspector Geiger Counter was safely inside a plastic bag. As soon as he removed the detector from the bag, voila!, the readings dropped immediately, as shown on the graph.
I have seen this phenomena many times since Fukushima, where placing the Geiger counter inside a plastic bag causes an over "accumulation" of radiation counts. I don't know why this happens. My personal theory (although not a very good one) is that radon gas has a chance to build up in the unventilated space of a bag, in the same way that radiation readings are often elevated in a radon infested, sealed basement.
I'm guessing that sometime after Fukushima, a novice Geiger counter operator, perhaps in Japan, decided to slip his detector inside a plastic bag, maybe to protect against potential contamination, and others saw this and picked up what I consider to be a very bad habit. To me, about the only valid reason to bag up your Geiger counter is to avoid water damage while taking a momentary outdoor reading in the rain. The drawback is that the plastic will shield any detectable alpha radiation which a surveyor would normally want to include. Nor would I place my Geiger counter on the ground, or at least not inside a bag while on the ground. When taking readings outdoors, and to guard against airborne contamination that could precipitate downward, orient your Geiger counter so that any end or side window faces downward itself.
Who knows how many false detections and alerts this bad, baggy practice has caused? So the moral of the story is, "If you don't want an artificial reading, then don't create an artificial environment!"
Thanks again for your support. Tim Flanegin
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