Update #5 on Japanese Reactor Accident: Radiation Measuring


29 March 2011 – noontime

Over the last days our radiation recordings here at OBRL-Greensprings have been at normal levels. No increases in background nor isolated bursts have been recorded.

The following letter on Radiation Measuring may be of general interest.


Dear D.,

If you want to detect specific radionuclides, then a "standard" thick-walled GM counter will not be of much help. Especially those old "civil defense" units with yellow paint are worthless to detect anything except the most extremely high radiation.

What you need is a good broad-spectrum GM counter, something with a thin mica end-window, which will allow one to evaluate for increases in general background. GM counters with thick metal walls are made primarily to detect hard gamma radiation — those are not much help in this kind of work. Alpha particles as from uranium or plutonium, can be stopped by a sheet of paper, while the weaker beta particles require nothing greater than a sheet of aluminum foil to be halted. Stronger beta and gamma will be deeply penetrating, however. So you really want to have a detector that gets all of these types of radiation. Uranium and plutonium are alpha-emitters, for example.

However, if a few radionuclides are on the increase, as with iodine-131 or cesium-137 from an atomic accident, or the heavier-weight mixed-oxide (MOX) elements from the reactor core, then given how these get distributed and mixed into the atmosphere over great distances, more specialized equipment is necessary, as I discuss below.

Firstly, to repeat myself, the two citizen-run radiation monitoring websites I have recommended are organized by companies that sell exactly these kinds of more sensitive GM equipment.

And here is one run by the EPA:

And I will repeat myself in stating the belief that the very large distances across the Pacific Ocean, from Japan to North America, make any kind of strong radiation contamination very unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely. For example, the distance from the Chernobyl nuclear accident site to those parts of Europe which suffered from contaminations is about 1/3 the distance or less, as from Japan to the West Coast of North America. I do not wish to fully downplay the risks, but it is important to be realistic. We are personally taking the milder iodide supplements here, "Kelp Caps" with 325 micro-grams of natural iodine, as a precaution, but continue drinking our well water.

We do use and sell the RadAlert 100, which is excellent for this kind of monitoring, but haven’t had any stock available to sell since a few days after the start of this crisis. The manufacturers are almost exclusively selling straight to Japan these days. But it is worthwhile to shop around and see what is available. We still have some books on the issue of atomic radiation exposure, under the left-side section on "Electrosmog and Nuclear Radiation Hazards".

To evaluate risk from radiation exposure, a good first step is to use such a sensitive mica end-window GM counter to monitor open-air readings, as well as readings at the soil surface, or on open surfaces, or in snow or rain-water samples. That’s fairly easy to do, and you just hold the detector close to the material or surface you wish to evaluate. If you can hook it to a computer for data-acquisition, so much the better, and you can then watch a graphical display of radiation over days, to see if it is stable or increasing. If your instrument has a continuous counting feature, you can also do longer time-counts, run a background check over 1 hour for example, with a second equal time-count while the device is placed over a water sample from your rain or snow, or with it resting on the soil surface. Divided by 60, you can then compare the counts-per-minute from air-background with rains or soil conditions. They should be approximately the same, though in some areas there is natural radioactive minerals in the soil, or as in some parts of the dry Western USA, residues of atomic fallout from the time of atmospheric bomb tests. So one must be careful about just what is being measured on the soil surface. It is therefore better to take a sample of rainwater which has never been in contact with the surface.

That’s what we are doing here — air, surface and snow-rain samples with a sensitive GM counter — which so far have not shown any significant increases in general background radiation. Such raw measuring with a sensitive GM counter is the first step in keeping alert to a problem.

The next steps are dependent upon what you find with the first step.

If you pick up even a doubling of background over a longer period– say a rise from 20 to 40 cpm over more than a few hours — that is not likely due to merely cosmic ray events, and should raise concerns and warrant continued monitoring. If it persists, then other procedures, such as inquiring if other stations are getting something similar, is necessary. Consult those monitoring maps I give above, for example. That’s where the radiation-mapping networks are very important. One station might show a blip or burp of higher readings over a short time, but if it does not persist and is not reflected in a wider region, then it is unlikely to be due to larger environmental contamination.

If a thin-walled GM counter starts to show a continued high count, a typical analytical procedure is to use pumps to make 24-hour air samples, pulling a larger volume of air through a filter disk. That will concentrate any small radioactive particles which might be diffusely spread in the air. The filter disk is then subjected to evaluation on a sensitive GM counter. If something of greater increase is found using that procedure, then the same filter-disk is subjected to further analysis with a pulse-height or spectrum analyzer to figure out the exact species of radionuclide giving the readings. Concentrating water samples for possible radiation is a more difficult procedure, requiring firstly a larger sample of rainwater which is then concentrated by boiling or evaporation. The devices I worked with years ago used a 1 meter glass tube, with the bottom composed of a metal tray which could be removed. You filled the tube half-way with rainwater, subjected it to heating whereupon the water slowly simmered and evaporated away, leaving an evaporation residue in the metal pan at the bottom. The metal pan is then subjected to separate evaluations just like the air-sample filter disk.

Unfortunately we don’t have the equipment for those latter two steps — neither the volume air-filter or water-evaporation sampling systems, nor the spectrum analyzer for specific radioisotopes.

However, since we are not detecting any higher levels from open air, surface or snow-water samples, those additional steps do not appear necessary, in my view. (Not yet, anyhow.) If we detect increased open-air or rainwater readings, we’d probably shift our work activities in that direction, and try to find the funds to obtain that kind of equipment.

I was in Pennsylvania in late October 1976 when Chinese atom bomb fallout hit the region, working at the Elsworth Baker Laboratory, then under the direction of Dr. Richard Blasband. We measured about a 20% increase in readings in the open air, with a doubling of readings right at the level of the surface soil and grass. That was significant, and it reflected a lot of diffuse stuff settling down from the Chinese test. Milk products were primarily affected, and were banned for a period. To my knowledge, with respect to the Japanese reactor accident, this is happening today only in Japan, maybe in some outlying Islands or on the Chinese coast, but not to my knowledge anywhere in North America, far across the Pacific.

So I would agree with those who say people should take precautions in Japan, and that people in North America are, for the moment, not at risk. But I disagree with any suggestion that “only” a “mere” doubling of general background would be insignificant, especially if this is persistent and found over a larger area. Given the independent monitoring efforts, we have a double-check against whatever the government-run laboratories are stating.

For more info on that old Chinese fallout problem, as a comparison to the modern problem, see here:

Simpson R.E., Shuman, F.G.D., Baratta, E.J. and Tanner, J.T. (1981). Projected dose commitment from fallout contamination in milk resulting from the 1976 Chinese atmospheric nuclear weapons test. Health Physics. 40. pg. 741-744.

I hope this helps.

Please keep me informed if you do learn of any increased radiation levels in North America. The reactors in Japan continue to belch out more radioactive debris, and so it could eventually have some consequential effects even on the other side of the Pacific.

Also note, nothing here addresses the important issue of oranur effects, which is a general irritation of the atmospheric life-energy which cannot be shielded, but which typically creates a variety of biological reactions, including blue-glowing or blue-haze anomalies in the atmosphere surrounding the accident sites. This can occur even in the absence of particle-detections, though typically is most acute right near to where the accident or incident. Underground a-bomb tests created something of a global oranur reaction, however. It requires very specialized equipment to detect, and we probably are the only facility in the Western half of the USA to monitor for that, given the controversy which surrounds the subject. But so far there is nothing unusual happening there either. For example we were recording up to 4000 cpm from high sunspot activity back in the mid-2000s, but throughout the entire period since the Japanese reactor accident, the oranur readings have never gotten higher than 800 cpm. Again, those are not standard radiation counts. And it is not clear to us how these instruments would react if we do get a clear fallout incident. I only mention it because several persons have asked about this.

For more information on the oranur subject, please read the section on “The Oranur Experiment” by Dr. Wilhelm Reich, in his book Selected Writings. That book is available in the “Wilhelm Reich” section of our on-line bookstore, along with another report on the oranur subject: Unusual Long-Distance Atmospheric and Geophysical Effects from Underground Nuclear Bomb Tests and Nuclear Power Plant Accidents: Suppressed Scientific Evidence. See the “Radiation Hazards” section. The new 2010 edition of my Orgone Accumulator Handbook also has an expanded discussion on these issues.

Kind regards,

James DeMeo, PhD
Director, Orgone Biophysical Research Lab
Ashland, Oregon, USA

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