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Archived Messages
from 6/18/11 to 3/17/12, listed in reverse chronological order:

Update: 3/17/12, 12:00 P.M. - Recent Radiation Alerts

The Radiation Network experienced three different Radiation Alerts in the last week or so.  The first two were from the Bangor PA station on March 3rd and March 11th, both midday events, and very similar to each other in that they were extremely high readings - over 2,000 CPM, continuing for a sustained number of minutes in each case.

For context, Bangor's detector is a standard tubed Monitor 4 Geiger counter recently built from a kit .  He was monitoring indoors in his single family home.  The Station owner indicates he knows of "nothing in the house that would cause this unless my Monitor 4 counter is going bad?", but offered that he "gets these readings every time I have the basement window open.  I walked around outside and did not find anything.  Wind again was from the west.  I am going to talk to my neighbor, to the west - he works demolition at different sites in New York City.  I am going to take it off line until I figure out what is going on."

My analysis:  In my years of experience in continuous radiation monitoring, this alert looks very much like one or two seen on the Radiation Network as a result of the station operator approaching too closely to the detector, having recently undergone radiation therapy or a medical diagnostic test involving radioactive isotopes injected into the blood stream.  These isotopes typically have short half lives of a few hours or days, but until they fully decay, the human patient is often highly radioactive.  Having said that, Bangor responds that "no one here was exposed or had any nuclear tests", so....

The other Radiation Alert was from a station in Goodrich, Michigan in the late evening of March 12th, lasting into the early morning of the next day.  The graph at left shows the classic pattern of gradually rising radiation levels often associated with a radioactive weather pattern moving into the environment over time.  This station was running the ultra-sensitive Inspector model, indoors in a private home, with end window of the GM tube facing up.  Nothing in her physical surroundings changed, and moving the detector around made no significant difference.  She did report that a "storm went through starting about 2330".  So if this were in fact the cause, it's amazing that whatever type of radiation accompanied the passing storm was nevertheless detectable indoorsMy analysis - this looks like a genuine Alert to me.

Update: 3/11/12, 5:15 P.M. - Fukushima Anniversary - What we have learned...

Reflecting on this 1 year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, here are a few observations, some of which are obvious, but which still bear repeating, and others not necessarily apparent to the novice in this specialized field of radiation detection:

bulletEven before Fukushima, the Nuclear Age, and the Industrial Revolution, the Earth was, and to this day is being bombarded by cosmic radiation, which constitutes much of what we call background radiation.  And given that the human species has survived, and even thrived amidst this radiation, most reasonable thinking people would conclude that normal background radiation is not harmful to your health.
bulletAlmost all of the radiation levels that you see being reported on the Radiation Map represent normal background.
bulletThe background radiation that does exist is a random event, so it is quite easy to confuse a momentary spike in background for radiation from a specific object or environment, instead.  This is a very common mistake among novice users of radiation detectors.
bulletThe immediate concern following a reactor meltdown is exposure to high levels of Gamma radiation both at the plant and in the surrounding area.
bulletAs it turned out, those high Gamma levels emitted at Fukushima were detectable by most counters from as far away as perhaps 50 miles or even more, so given a similar incident in the US, God forbid, that is what we might expect as an immediate high danger zone.
bulletHaving said that, here in the US, 5,000 miles distant from Fukushima, we saw no, to only slightly elevated levels at most, in so called environmental radiation in the air.
bulletThe secondary health risk to the general public associated with a meltdown is downstream contamination of soil, food and water.  We know from multiple and reliable tests that Japanese soils as far as 200 miles away were significantly contaminated by precipitation-borne radiation from the meltdown.
bulletWe also know that at least trace contaminants made their way to parts of the US, presumably riding on the jet stream - this according to government agencies.
bulletWe have learned that while Geiger counters are very effective at detecting elevated gamma radiation levels within reasonable distance of a meltdown, that they have limitations beyond that, in part because they are being asked to detect low level radiation in substances that, by definition, are not normally radioactive.  The more sensitive models, when used procedurally correct, have a chance at detecting some contaminated foods, but only down to a certain level.
bulletI have learned (and probably should have known this) that rain and snow can be naturally radioactive, due to the presence of naturally occurring Radon gas in the atmosphere, along with oxygen, nitrogen, etc., and that the decaying daughter products of that Radon gas can trigger a radiation detector.
bulletTherefore, it is not enough to determine that captured rainwater is radioactive to then conclude it was made so from the by-products of a melting nuclear fission reactor.  One must go a step further and identify the particular isotopes that are emitting the radiation, to determine if they are "foreign".
bulletSpecialized equipment and/or radiation collection and concentration processes are needed for that isotope ID, which is beyond the economic and technical means of most people.
bulletMany people in Japan and America (and in the US especially since the volatile 1960's) do not trust the Government to be honest and transparent with the public.
bulletIndependent radiation monitoring by the citizens, such as done by the Radiation Network or the Safecast group in Japan, therefore serve a valuable role in society.
bulletBeyond general monitoring, this Network in particular, is designed as an early warning system, capable of alerting the general public within 1 minute of a Fukushima-like disaster, providing we have stations reasonably near the disaster zone.
bulletSomething as simple as the process of cooling water, and yet so critical to safe operation of a nuclear reactor, when it fails, starts yet another type of chain reaction of dangerous events.  If we are to maintain nuclear power as an energy source, we must learn from the Fukushima example and employ those lessons in making our plants safer, or in certain cases perhaps, justifying closure.

Update: 3/10/12, 10:45 A.M. - Solar Flare - Out!

Over the past couple of days, a large Solar Storm or CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) blasted Earth, and given that the Radiation Network is continuously monitoring environmental radiation among close to 60 stations, the question was whether we were going to detect an elevated level.  Well, we did not, at least not of any obvious discernable amount.  Our average readings on Thursday, when the Solar Storm peaked, ranged from 22 to 23 CPM (Counts per Minute) which is normal among our varying mix of Geiger counter models.  Beyond that, a number of individual stations who were plotting radiation against their normal background reported no elevated levels.

Because cosmic radiation, such as that emitted by our Sun, is easily strong enough to pass through the walls of most structures, even our indoor monitoring stations could have potentially registered elevated levels from a sizable solar storm.  I am no scientist, but my theory is that as intense as this passing solar storm was, its combined energy, as a percentage of normal cosmic radiation that constitutes much of our background, was just too small to make a noticeable difference.

But this event provides a good opportunity to visit this general subject.  Many lay persons may not understand that our Sun and all of the other stars are nuclear reactors (of the fusion type) along with Fukushima - it's just that they are naturally occurring, and completely uncontrolled.  Science fiction fans of the Jules Verne classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, may remember the term that Captain Nemo used to describe the energy source of the Nautilus - the "Power of the Universe".  Well, that is nuclear power.

A related topic to this is the Electromagnetic Spectrum, one of those elegant constructs of science, like the structure of the Periodic Table of Elements, that tells us so much in such a concise format.  That spectrum ranges across multiple forms of electromagnetic energy whose fundamental difference is their respective frequencies and wavelengths, which are inversely related.  On one end of the spectrum are the high frequency, short wavelength Gamma and X-Rays, and at the opposite is the low frequency, long wavelength radio waves.  In between are ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared, and microwaves.  Among this group, the only forms of radiation that are "ionizing", or what we normally refer to as "radioactive", are Gamma and X-Rays, so are therefore the only types of radiation within the electromagnetic spectrum that are detectable by a Geiger counter.  For those interested, here is a wikipedia link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_spectrum

Update: 2/05/12, 9:40 A.M. - Private Network open to the Public

Some viewers asked about high readings in Virginia on 2/2/12, from stations denoted on the map by a White Circle.  That designation signifies a Sim, short for Simulation, meaning those stations did not have a Geiger counter connected, and instead were running a Simulation to demonstrate the action of a typical Geiger counter, including at elevated levels in some cases.  In short, the readings were not real.  Study the Map Legend at the bottom left corner of the map.

This brings up a point which some viewers may not understand.  While the Radiation Network is privately owned and operated, it is nevertheless open to the responsible public.  All  you need do is make a one time purchase of the underlying GeigerGraph Software that runs the network.  Many of you have shown strong and loyal interest in our network, so you might consider joining, even if you do not have a compatible Geiger counter.

To review, membership in the Network gives you access to a fully interactive Radiation Map of all countries, with zoom and other navigation features, clickable ID of Monitoring Stations and Nuclear Sites, real time access to minute-by-minute Radiation Count data for every station, and participation in an integrated Chat with other Network members to discuss radiation levels, interpretation of alerts, logistics of monitoring setups, etc.  Once you become a member, you will never need to return to the live web page anymore, because you will do all of your monitoring within the powerful and information-laden software itself.

So please feel free to join our Network, even if you don't have a Geiger counter at present.  Thanks.

Update: 1/25/12, 7:30 A.M. - Follow up to Taos Alert

Since the Taos alert, others have chimed in, including PotrBlog, who first corrected me on the jet stream flow, and then offered an interesting theory in explanation of the elevated detection.  See this youtube link for full details:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P015zuShnUg&feature=share

PotrBlog suggests that the Taos radiation detection is Fukushima based, related to a nearby earthquake occurring on about January 11th, then carried by the jet stream, the southern edge of which flowed over Taos.  Contrary to my instinctual thinking, PotrBlog maintains that the fallout zone of jet stream borne radiation is not the high speed center of the flow, but instead along the relatively slower and rippled edges, which in this case, positioned right over Taos.  Without taking a stance on PotrBlog's theory, I find it interesting and wanted the rest of you to be aware of it.

Update: 1/19/12, 11:30 A.M. - Radiation Alert from Taos

On January 18th, at about 5:48 PM local time, the Nokaoi station in the Taos area of New Mexico broadcast a Radiation Alert over the Network.  See the graph at right, depicting elevated readings averaging over 100 CPM (Counts per Minute) for a sustained period of about 20 minutes, then subsiding to near normal background levels of about 60 to 70 CPM.

For context, the station is operating the Inspector Geiger counter, which is a high count rate model built around an ultra-sensitive pancake style Geiger- Mueller tube.  Between that high count rate, and the high elevation of Taos at 7,300 feet, their background count of about 60 CPM is therefore considered normal.

During the alert period, the station reports they were monitoring indoors on the second floor of an adobe structure, with the instrument sitting on the bed, monitoring the environment only - no specific materials were being scanned at the time.  A few minutes of outdoor monitoring preceded the graphed activity shown above, which readings were also elevated.  It was neither raining nor snowing at the time, and the wind was still, against relatively clear skies, although the station reported a "heavy orange cloud" on the western horizon at dusk, reminiscent of an LA sunset that is color enhanced by smog.

So what was the cause?  In short, we don't know, but the fact that the elevated radiation levels were sustained for many minutes, versus a momentary spike, and then fell back to normal levels, tends to rule out a false alert that our network occasionally generates from an instrument glitch or the like.  A jet stream map from last evening located the flow too far north to be a factor, its southern edge dipping down only as far as Colorado.  Did the orange cloud somehow relate to the elevated radiation levels?  Was there a passing radioactive "plume" from Japan?  Or perhaps a downwind release from Los Alamos National Lab to the west?  These are speculative questions only.  A greater number of Monitoring Stations would provide a chance to corroborate readings, so that must be the continuing mission of the Radiation Network.

Update: 11/27/11, 9:00 A.M. - Radioactive Rain - Natural or Contaminated?

On multiple occasions since April, we have reported to you the detection of radiation from rainwater, by stations on this network, and here is yet another example.  The Seattle WA station, which operates a real-time, rainwater capture and radiation scan feature (see the 10/9/11 Update), registered a level of radiation on the morning of November 21st high enough to momentarily exceed the 100 CPM (Counts per Minute) Alert level on our network.  Rainfall had moved into his area, and raised his detection from normal background of 36 CPM to about 85 CPM for an extended period.  The graph at right shows the radiation level subsiding over the ensuing 2 hours.

To review, the Geiger counters that drive the Radiation Network give only a total radiation count, and lack the ability to identify by isotope, and given that the presence of certain isotopes provides a clue to the source of radiation, we have been unable to say whether these radioactive rainfall detections are Fukushima in origin, or naturally occurring.

But this is all changing as of recent.  We now have 1 to 2 stations on our network investing in the analytical tools needed to determine isotope content.  This is specialized and expensive equipment that combines a Gamma Scintillation Detector with a Multi-Channel Analyzer, to perform Gamma Spectroscopy and quantify energy levels.  These measured energies serve as a sort of fingerprint or DNA marker for each isotope, so for instance, a naturally occurring component of rainfall like a Radon gas daughter product will show a different signature than will an Iodine-131 contaminant.  Wikipedia has a pretty good article on this for those wanting greater detail:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma_spectroscopy

So the plan is to use this diagnostic equipment to analyze rainwater, soil, and food samples for Radiation Network members, at least for starters.  We will report what we find, so stay tuned.  I should acknowledge that other institutions are already conducting this type of analysis, so what comes out of this network should be considered an additional and independent source beyond Government agency or University research.

Update: 10/30/11, 6:30 P.M. - Radiation Report from Japan

Some viewers of the Radiation Maps on our Network wonder why radiation levels in Japan seem to be lower than those in the US in some instances.  For example, of the stations in Japan reporting in real time as I write this, their average readings are about 14 CPM (Counts per Minute), in contrast to some stations in the US showing levels in the 30's and 40's.  Well, the explanation of that difference is simple.  First of all, our network is fed by readings in CPM because that is what almost all of the contributing detectors send out of their data ports, and as we have stressed many times, not all detectors are equal in the design and size of the sensor, or GM (Geiger-Mueller) tube that they are built around.  It just so happens that most of our Japan stations use "standard tubed" Geiger counters, while many stations in America use the ultra-sensitive pancake-tubed detectors, which have about a 3 to 1 higher count rate than standard tubes.  So whenever you see readings in the 30 or 40's, it is usually because the station is running a pancake tubed Geiger counter.

Unfortunately, that has led to some understandable confusion, but you see, the Radiation Network is an equal opportunity practitioner, i.e. we allow almost any model of radiation detector to contribute to our network - we are non-discriminatory.  But because of the differences, we need to do a better job of providing context for the readings.  A future version of the underlying software that runs the network will incorporate a technical database of the different models of compatible detectors, and offer an "Equalizer" function for those who want to try to adjust for the different GM tubes in the various Geiger counters.

But back to Japan.  Those average readings of 14 CPM are from sea level stations monitoring indoors, located in the Tokyo/Yokohama metroplex, as well as the Sendai area farther north and closer to Fukushima.  So what conclusions are we to draw from those readings?  Well, unless one ventures into the evacuation zone around Fukushima, environmental radiation levels elsewhere in Japan are pretty normal to slightly elevated.  We have said before that one must be within 20 to 60 miles of a Fukushima like emission to get an elevated detection just "in the air".

Having said that, many reports come back from Japan about elevated radiation levels from rainfall, along with hot spots of soil contamination.  Here is one such study from one of our stations in Yokohama - "These are all averages of 10 minute total Counts Per Minute as measured by the CRM-100 around our apartment."

bulletInside 2nd floor on desk (with windows closed) - 10.4 CPM
bulletInside 2nd floor on desk (with windows open and a breeze) - 12.9 CPM
bulletOutside on bench 1.5 feet above ground - 12.9 CPM
bulletOutside on 2nd floor balcony at floor level by drainage point - 15.2 CPM
bulletOutside on a pile of leaves (at ground level) and close to drainage - 19.2 CPM

"In conclusion, radiation tends to be slightly lower inside than outside, and very small hot spots are being created around ditches and other drainage areas.  This is also reasonably consistent with other experiments at a nearby park where I saw a radiation drop from 20 to 30 CPM, to less than 10 CPM when I entered a metal tower (without open windows)."

Thanks to our "Yokohama Rad" station for this report.  He added that an increasing number of radiation maps are finally being released, which tend to show radiation apparently scattered by the wind.  The data generated by the folks at safecast.org includes a couple of maps that show the radiation they measured as they drove through Fukushima Prefecture.  Definitely check out safecast because the number of their data points is quite large.

Update: 10/9/11, 6:15 P.M. - Another Real Time Rainwater Scan

The Seattle WA member station of the Radiation Network, the same one that gave us a demonstration of a Mobile Monitoring Station (see Update 7/24/11), has built an outdoor Radiation Monitoring Station with a real time Rainwater Capture accessory (photo at right).  The goal is the same as what the acomfort station conceived (see 9/10/11 Update), but Seattle's design is quite different, yet apparently just as effective.

Look at the graph below, from 9/19/11.  Overlaid on top is a third party weather program showing rainfall (bright green) in the Seattle vicinity at the same time that he was monitoring outdoors with his rainwater capture feature.  Notice the ebb and flow of radiation levels, which rose as high as the 90's in CPM (Counts per Minute), about 3 times his normal background of 32 CPM.  Interestingly, his elevated readings were just below the Radiation Network's 100 CPM Alert level.

As to the details of Seattle's setup, he is using the Inspector pocket Geiger counter, the one with the high count rate GM (Geiger-Mueller) tube, seen in the top photo, laying flat in the center of the feature, protected from direct overhead rainfall.  The sloped contraption above is the rain collector and guides the water to a reservoir underneath the Inspector's GM tube, which is on the back, or bottom of the instrument when laid flat.  That reservoir has a seep hole for water to drain out and make way for a new sample.

Meanwhile, the feature incorporates vents to allow free flowing air to pass under the detector, for picking up possible contamination.  Because of the rainy and humid environment synonymous with the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has affixed a heater to add a drying process to control dew.  And all this while Seattle is connected in real time to the Radiation Network, so the rest of us can benefit from his scanning data.

In summary, the Seattle WA station is detecting radiation in his rainwater, and on more than one occasion.  To review, there can be a naturally occurring radioactive constituent to rainfall, namely daughter products of radon gas that make up part of the atmosphere, and according to one expert, also tritium.  What we don't know is whether those are the only cause of Seattle's radioactive rainfall, so this detection setup is only a first step.

On a lighter note, beyond the functionality, when you look at Seattle WA's construction from a different angle, it seems worthy of Best in Show within the category of Outdoor Sculpture, from the School of Industrial Arts :-)

Update: 9/17/11, 10:30 A.M. - More Nuclear Sites

Based on feedback from network members and other interested viewers of the Radiation Network, I just added a few more nuclear sites to the Radiation Map, as follows:

bulletBokan Mountain Uranium mine in SE Alaska
bulletProjects Rulison and Rio Blanco in NW Colorado - like the Gasbuggy Project in New Mexico, these projects involved underground nuclear detonations about 50 years ago with the goal of stimulating the flow of trapped natural gas.
bulletProject Gnome in SE New Mexico - Another underground test for peaceful purposes, specifically to evaluate the prospect of using heat generated from the nuclear explosion to create steam to power generators for electricity.
bulletSalmon Site in southern Mississippi - More underground detonations from the 1960's Cold War era, but in this case to test seismic methods of detecting underground nuclear explosions.  This was the only underground nuclear test performed in the Eastern US.
bulletNational Enrichment Facility in SE New Mexico - a newly built structure featuring the gas centrifuge system of uranium enrichment.
bulletWaste Isolation Project in West Texas - Another new facility -  for disposal of low level nuclear waste.

Thanks to all of you who contributed to updating our Nuclear Site database.

Update: 9/15/11, 9:00 A.M. - "American in Paris", er uh "Paraguay"!!!

We just added a Radiation Map for South America because we have a new Monitoring Station in Paraguay of all places, operated by an American.  But beyond the surprise, we heartily welcome him.  His station represents the first on our Network from the Southern hemisphere, which may be relevant. So check out the new map.

Update: 9/10/11, 11:30 P.M. - NYC well equipped

As the nation plans for the anniversary of 9/11/01, the task is twofold - to both memorialize, and to guard against another attack.  In the aftermath of that tragedy 10 years ago, when most Americans deemed the possibility of a repeat attack quite high, New York City was preparing.  They contacted us in search of radiation detectors for their first responders, and we worked with the manufacturer, International Medcom, to furnish 500 units of the Radalert 50 Digital Pocket Geiger counters to the NYC Fire Department, in a transaction privately funded by the Centurion Foundation of New York City, chaired by Albert Fried, Jr., a long time supporter of New York's finest.

The Radalert 50 has since been succeeded by the Radalert 100, but it is perfectly suited for first response - compact and wearable on an officer's belt, yet all-around in capability, with a standard Geiger-Mueller tube capable of detecting Alpha, Beta, and Gamma radiation, along with a programmable audible alert feature.  But unlike the civil defense models of circa 1960, which were geared quite high in operating range commensurate with expected radiation levels from a nuclear exchange between the superpowers, the Radalert and most modern detectors are far more sensitive on the low end to meet today's requirements such as dirty bomb detection.

To review, a dirty bomb is not a nuclear device, but rather a conventional explosive surrounded by radioactive material, which could be anything from medical waste to uranium ore.  So its range is only as far as that of a conventional bomb, perhaps a hundred yards immediately, but airborne particles could extend that perimeter much farther.  So within that zone, the Radalert should be capable of detecting the corresponding radiation.  While a dirty bomb is quite dangerous, especially from the explosive impact, and while the radiological dispersal would require an extensive clean-up effort, relative to a genuine nuclear bomb, a dirty bomb is mainly a weapon of terror.

God forbid we ever witness this, but in such case, NYC and most other major cities are well equipped to immediately detect this type of hazard so that they can control exposure.

Update: 9/10/11, 9:15 A.M. - Detecting Radioactive Rainwater in real time

Yesterday evening, September 9th, one of our Bay area Monitoring Stations, specifically in Menlo Park, CA, broadcast a Radiation Alert at about 9:00 P.M., averaging around 100 CPM for a period of 13 minutes (see graph at right).  We are pretty sure what triggered the alert - radioactive rainwater, and this particular station detected that in real time!  This is the one of the first station's on our network to have prototyped a system to do just that.

As orientation, this is the same Station that we previewed as a model of Outdoor Monitoring - scroll down to the 4/22 Update.   Remember, his ultra-sensitive pancake tubed Inspector Geiger counter is safely strapped to the underside of the lid of this cooler, with the end window of the GM tube pointed downward.

As to the the rainwater capture accessory - he collects free-falling rainwater off of his solar panel (see photo at left), instead of his roof (which earlier tests showed to be slightly radioactive), and then uses the gutter plumbing to pass that rainwater directly under and by the radiation detector, adding a "dam" in the gutter to slow the rainflow sufficiently for a valid reading.  For extra measure, the system ends with a paint can to collect the rainwater for later analysis.

Remember, this detection system operates while his Geiger Counter is still connected to the Radiation Network, thus the real time component.  So once again, the "acomfort" Monitoring Station has led the way in modeling an optimal and relevant outdoor radiation monitoring system of the kind that you and I can easily build, and we should commend him for this.

So what is the value of detecting radioactive rainwater in real time?  A number of youtube videos are showing scans of alleged rainwater, in a few cases over 1,000 CPM !!!, but after the fact.  Not that those experiments are illegitimate, but a detection in real time, in contrast, is more difficult to manipulate than a later analysis, if that were one's agenda, so real time detection adds credibility to the system.  In addition, acomfort's detection was made while connected to the Radiation Network, where other members were able to follow his minute-by-minute radiation counts through his Remote Graph and Spreadsheet, while the elevated levels were being recorded.

As to the relevant danger from this contaminated rainwater, if any, I will leave that to the experts for now.

Update: 9/7/11, 1:30 P.M. - Radiation Alert in New Mexico

A new Monitoring Station in Taos, New Mexico broadcast a Radiation Alert in the early afternoon today, averaging about 150 CPM, and sustained for many minutes.  Normal background for that station is 64 CPM, high to start with because of the 7,500 foot altitude in Taos, and also because the Geiger Counter in use is built around the same ultra-sensitive pancake GM tube used in the Inspector line of detectors.

The Station asserts it was scanning captured rainwater from an outdoor picnic table, harvested with a paper towel, then brought indoors, set on a paper plate, laid in turn on top of a piece of styrofoam, then sitting on an oak table.  This is a very high reading for captured rainwater compared to similar scans known to have been performed under conditions that pass scientific muster.  We can not independently verify these readings, but remain open.

Generally, experiments are to be done while disconnected from the network, so for the time being, until the experimentation is over, we have disconnected the station.

Update: 9/2/11, 9:30 A.M. - Radiation on Airplane Trip

I recently flew round trip from Phoenix to Milwaukee, and recorded the radiation counts on the return flight using a new Geiger Counter model, the PRM-8000, one of the few to have a data logging feature that enables radiation count history to be stored remotely in the instrument, and then later uploaded to a computer for analysis.  The graph at right illustrates the journey.

As orientation, the normal background count for the standard-GM tubed PRM at base elevation of 634 feet in Milwaukee was 16 CPM (Counts per Minute), versus the Phoenix experience of 19 CPM at 1,124 feet elevation. 

Studying the graph, first note the spike in radiation at the beginning of the trip.  The PRM was being scanned by the X-Ray machine as part of carry-on luggage, and for that minute, averaged a radiation level of 2,130 CPM.  Once the Boeing-737 took off, background radiation climbed in unison with the plane's altitude, and by the time the airliner leveled off, probably at around 40,000 feet, radiation had peaked at 511 CPM, and was averaging 423 CPM, or about 25 times normal background.

When you think about it, this experiment all but proves that the primary source of ever-present background radiation on Earth is cosmic in origin.  The farther that a Geiger counter travels away from the surface of the Earth, the greater the background radiation count because of the lesser atmospheric and electromagnetic shielding at higher altitude.  This experiment should also put to rest a myth held by a few that the source of our background count is the radioactive remnants from circa 1960 above-ground nuclear testing in Nevada and the Soviet Union.  Not that such detonations were, or are not, a component of background, but in magnitude, they pale in comparison to the strong cosmic ray constituent.

So how harmful is radiation from plane flights?  For the PRM-8000, a radiation level of 423 CPM equates to .423 mR/hr, so the total round trip flight time of 7 hours contributed toward my annual radiation dosage by the amount of about 3 mR.  Since the NIH (National Institute of Health) recommends limiting annual radiation dosage to no more than 100 mR, over and above normal background radiation, that would correspond to 33 such flights per year.  I rarely fly, but you can estimate the accumulated dosage that our dutiful flight crews receive over the course of a year of service.

Some might wonder if taking a radiation detector on a commercial flight is allowed.  Neither the TSA nor most airlines have such a prohibition. Of course, any one security officer could still question it, so you might have along an operation manual or invoice as documentation.  By now, 5 months after Fukushima, I would imagine most TSA personnel are trained on this, given a number of American residents who are taking radiation detectors on flights to Japan.

A cautionary note - if you do take a radiation detector in carry-on to observe the high radiation count in flight, I advise discrete monitoring - turn off any audible clicking or beeping so as not to alarm passengers nearby.

Update: 8/28/11, 10:10 A.M. - Server Upgrade

To support growth of the Radiation Network, we are upgrading the server on Sunday, August 28th.  The Network will be down from time to time during that period.   Thank you for your patience.

Update: 7/24/11, 11:15 A.M. - Mobile Monitoring Station

The underlying software that runs the Radiation Network provides not only for permanently located Monitoring Stations, but also Mobile Monitoring Stations, and we were treated to a show of this last week.  The Seattle WA station led us on a trip to Portland, Oregon, the first leg of which can be seen on the map at right.  When a station goes mobile, its yellow circle grows an arrow, indicating direction of travel, and it leaves a red-lined GPS trail in its wake.

Participating members on the network were also able to follow Seattle WA's progress through a pop-up GPS menu shown at left, indicating satellite reception, map coordinates, altitude, speed, and bearing and direction of travel.

During the course of a mobile radiation monitoring journey, the software program combines the above data with a minute-by-minute radiation count, all recorded on an internal spreadsheet so that a full logged history is developed, but all of this available in real time as well to participating network members.  This powerful GPS feature has application in a number of areas, including these examples:

bulletAn intrepid journalist in Japan, willing to accept the corresponding risk, becomes a mobile monitoring station traveling from Tokyo toward Fukushima, broadcasting increasing radiation levels as the evacuation zone is penetrated.
bulletTake a driving tour around a nuclear site in the US, such as the Fort Calhoun power plant, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, or the Nevada Test Site, etc, checking for any elevated radiation levels above background.
bulletWith advanced notice to the Radiation Network, a private plane operator would become a mobile monitoring station on a flight from base elevation to ceiling, in a demonstration to the public of how radiation levels increase with altitude, and as a documentary of how linear or not that relationship between altitude and radiation levels is.
bulletEquip a government train carrying nuclear waste with this technology so that its progress can be tracked to the storage site.

If you are a Monitoring Station on the Radiation Network, and want to "go mobile", then this is all you need:

bulletA PC laptop or netbook computer on which to load the software program
bulletA continuous Internet connection through mobile or satellite broadband
bulletA GPS receiver also connected to the laptop

Update: 7/6/2011, 7:50 A.M. - Kauai Radiation Alert - again

After some investigation, we can now confirm that the Kauai Monitoring Station in Hawaii broadcast yet another Radiation Alert recently (see graph at right), commencing toward midnight of June 29th and continuing into the early morning hours of June 30th.  This is becoming somewhat of a routine event for the Kauai station, considering elevated radiation detections twice before, on June 10th and June 22nd (see Updates below).

This most recent Alert was triggered by a detection of over 100 CPM (Counts per Minute) for a sustained period of almost 15 minutes, followed by lower, yet elevated radiation levels for another half hour, making this the longest detection period yet for the Kauai station (clear sky this time - no rain).  Background radiation for that station approximates 37 CPM, so these sustained levels were 2 to 3 times normal.  Again, our best judgment is that the source of this radiation is probably Fukushima, perhaps from recent "releases" - we will try to correlate.

This detection by the Kauai station brings up an interesting and related story.  A few days before the recent alert, the station operator was remounting the external probe of the Geiger counter under the eaves of the structure, and unwittingly scanned the roof shingles themselves, only to discover an elevated reading at a sustained rate of easily twice normal background.  Moving the probe in closer proximity to the shingled roof returned more frequent audible clicking, confirming the shingles were the source.

So the question is, "Why are these roof shingles emitting radiation - is it because of contamination over time by rainfall precipitating it own radioactive particles, or are the shingles themselves 'hot'?"  To answer this, the station operator scanned a pile of surplus shingles in storage that had never been exposed to the rain, and found them to also set off the Geiger counter.  So while we do not think of shingles as being radioactive, because they are often "composition", of stone-based products in part, any one sample can be slightly radioactive.  This story serves as a lesson - when scanning captured rainwater for potential radioactive contamination, do not harvest it off any stone-based roofing material lest you get a false signal.

Update: 6/30/11, 6:15 P.M. - Web Sites down

A brief note to confirm our web sites were down for half a day.  This is "Chapter 2, the Final Saga" with our previous web host (see 6/9/11 Update for background), who is now history.  As was the case in Chapter 1 of the story, even though this web site was down, the Radiation Network itself continued to operate, which monitoring included another tentative Radiation Alert from the Kauai station which we are investigating.  Looking forward, it will take a couple of days to fix everything, including timely updating of the maps.  Thank you for your patience during this period.

Update: 6/23/11, 7:50 A.M. - Kauai Station, the "Perfect Storm"

Yesterday, June 22nd, our network's Monitoring Station on the island of Kauai, within the Hawaiian island chain, broadcast yet another Radiation Alert over the Network, at 8:08 A.M. local time - a 3 minute surge of 209, 456, and 186 CPM (Counts per Minute) respectively, accompanied by a generally elevated level leading up to that, and followed by another blip at 2:52 P.M.  The Kauai station indicates it was raining at the time, so we believe the precipitation brought down Fukushima fallout from the atmosphere.

This detection follows a similar, sustained elevated radiation level from the Kauai station on June 10th - see the Update below dated 6/11/11.  Other than this, since the nuclear disaster in Japan, the stations on our Network that we believe to have detected Fukushima radiation in significant and noticeable levels have been limited to a couple of high altitude stations in Colorado, and an obvious one in Japan itself.  So the question is, "What is so special about the Kauai station?".  In answer, I think we what have here is "the perfect storm":

bulletFirst, of all the US stations on our network, Kauai is about the closest to Japan, some 3,500 miles away (Anchorage, AK is, too).  And as mentioned before, within the Hawaiian chain, Kauai is the "remote outpost" farthest north and west toward Japan, as compared to our stations on Maui and the Big Island.  Having said this, while proximity is important, weather patterns are of at least equal importance when considering radiation fallout.
bulletAnd speaking of weather, the Kauai station, situated on the north shore in the community of Princeville, is in a very rainy place, getting about 60 to 80 inches per year.  Some other parts of the island are in a rain shadow.
bulletThe radiation detector on the Kauai station is an external probe model, and the wand itself is mounted outdoors, protected under the overhanging eaves of the structure, but readily available to "sniff" the air, which in this case is often quite wet and occasionally contaminated, apparently.
bulletBeyond that, the Geiger-Mueller tube used in the probe is of the same pancake design as in the Inspector line of instruments, with a nominal 2" diameter, finished out with a thin mica end window, categorizing this as an ultra-sensitive Geiger counter capable of detecting low levels of Alpha and Beta radiation, along with Gamma radiation.

So there is your "perfect storm" - in relatively close proximity, amidst a rainy environment, set up for outdoor monitoring, and using an ultra-sensitive detector.  The next order of business is to place additional monitoring stations around Kauai, in both high rainfall and rain shadow areas to provide confirming readings and to test out some of the theories offered above.  We also need to correlate detections with weather patterns and movements of the jet stream, combined with any verifiable "releases" of radiation from Fukushima.

Update: 6/22/11, 9:00 A.M. - False Alert

Yesterday, a false alert was broadcast by one of our Monitoring Stations in South Bend, Indiana.  A weird circumstance - a limb from a tree trimmer fell across the power lines killing electricity to the house, and because the radiation detector is on a A/C power supply, some sort of power surge made it through the Geiger counter.  The station plans to add an electronic filter to prevent a recurrence.  Sorry, folks.

Update: 6/18/11, 12:00 P.M. - Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant

A number of concerned citizens have been following the activity at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant in Nebraska.  It is perched on the Missouri River which is in flood stage, and there is concern the plant structure could be breached, possibly impacting the cooling system of the reactor, an eerily similar circumstance as in Fukushima, and only 3 months later.

Our network has one Monitoring Station nearby, in Boys Town, 20 miles away to the south southwest.  On the map at left, Fort Calhoun is the nuclear site at top center, on the blue-lined river, while the Monitoring Station is the yellow circle at bottom left.  For context, Omaha is the urban center at bottom right.  The Boys Town station is monitoring indoors for the time being, and her readings of environmental radiation levels are averaging 37 CPM (Counts per Minute) which is quite normal for the high count rate, pancake-tubed Inspector model that she is using.

Circumstances permitting, Boys Town will try to get more specific readings.  Until then, someone in the vicinity might suggest to the local TV crew that filmed the nuclear plant from a boat on the Missouri, to return with a radiation detector and report their finding on the evening news.  As low as our inventory is, I could probably come up with a Geiger counter for the TV station to use, and help them interpret their readings.  Thanks.

Thanks again for your support. Tim Flanegin

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