Archived Messages from 3/18/12 to 8/11/12, listed in reverse chronological order:
Update: 8/11/12, 10:30 A.M. - Mobile Monitoring in Virginia
Viewers of the Radiation Network map yesterday may have noticed a red line trailing a yellow, "arrow-ed" circle in Virginia. That was Anti Proton on a mobile radiation monitoring trip from Fredericksburg to Norfolk, Virginia. This is much like the Seattle WA trip from last year, combining radiation detection, moving GPS coordinates, and Internet connectivity, all in real time, and made possible by the underlying software that runs the Radiation Network. See the archived 7/24/11 Update.
A few interesting observations from the journey. When Anti Proton passed through a tunnel along the highway that travels both underground and below the harbor, his radiation readings did not show any observable drop from shielding by the water or just the depth itself. We know how background radiation rises with altitude, as in an airplane, but how deep must one "journey to the center of the Earth" to completely negate cosmic rays, such that all background emanates only from minerals in the planet's crust? Surely, someone has done this experiment.
Secondly, as AP passed within a mile of two nuclear powered aircraft carriers moored in the harbor, there was no perceptible increase in radiation levels - we would hope so! Ironically, it was only in the motel room at the journey's end that his Inspector EXP detected foreign radiation, believed to come from the ceiling tiles in the room. His readings are still high as I write this, averaging 77 CPM versus normal background in the high 30's or so.
Update: 8/9/12, 8:15 A.M. - Background Radiation on Mars
The Mars Curiosity landing provides a good opportunity to revisit the concept of background radiation. The rover is equipped with multiple detectors, and NASA is reporting high radiation levels on the surface of Mars, expressed in "arbitrary" units of measurement until the scientists can interpret the readings. As summarized on Space.com, "Radiation levels are much higher on Mars than they are on Earth, for two main reasons. Mars' atmosphere is just 1 percent as thick as our planet's, and Mars does not have a worldwide magnetic field. As a result, many more fast-moving charged particles reach the Red Planet's surface."
The primary source of Martian radiation is probably the same cosmic rays that shower Earth, generated by a nuclear reactor that we Earthlings call the Sun, and by other radiating stars in outer space. Cosmic rays were discovered by the scientist Victor Hess using an early mobile monitoring system - an ascending balloon flight, combined with radiation detectors, to prove that radiation levels generally increase with altitude as the shielding atmosphere of Earth is left behind. I and many others have duplicated this experiment in a modern commercial airplane flight. See the archived Update dated 9/2/11.
As I concluded from that test, it should dispel the myth that background radiation on Earth is caused by the remnants of nuclear testing from the 1950's and 1960's. And since we have no evidence, at least so far, that any nuclear detonations occurred on Mars, the high background radiation on the Red Planet as measured by Curiosity offers further proof that cosmic radiation is the source.
Above is the link to a Wikipedia article on the Hess experiment. I do question this conclusion -"Hess also ruled out the Sun as the radiation's source by making a balloon ascent during a near-total eclipse. With the moon blocking much of the Sun's visible radiation, Hess still measured rising radiation at rising altitude."
The above link is a summary of NASA's report by Space.com. An interesting side note - one of the adjustments NASA must make before quantifying the detected radiation levels on Mars is to deduct radioactivity emanating from the Curiosity's own power plant - a Plutonium fueled nuclear reactor!
Update: 6/19/12, 7:00 P.M: - Radiation Detection in Wisconsin
Starting this afternoon, local time, a recent Monitoring Station in Frederic, WI detected an elevated level of radiation. The reading just barely surpassed 100 CPM for only a minute, more than twice normal background, but that maximum reading was at the apex of a classic ebb and flow pattern often associated with a passing radioactive system. In fact, there were scattered thunderstorms in the area, along with a flash flood watch.
At the same time, interestingly, the southern edge of the Jet Stream was positioned immediately over the Frederic station in northwest Wisconsin. We saw this very same pattern with the Rattler and Taos detections reported in the last few weeks, where airborne particles on the slower margins of the stream are freer to drop down to Earth. - see the Updates below.
Logistically, the Frederic station is operating the Inspector EXP, the external probe version of the popular Inspector model, built around the same ultra-sensitive, pancake-style Geiger-Mueller tube. On top of that, the Frederic station is continuously monitoring outdoors. The photo shows the setup that he designed and that is still under construction.
An acrylic tube extends out from the wall of his house, and inside it, you can see the external wand or probe of the EXP, protected from rainfall, but able to "sniff" the air passing between the open chimney and "intake" holes on the underside of the opposite end of the acrylic tube. The temporary red, protective cap over the end window of the GM tube is removable for alpha detection. The probe is connected by cable to the survey meter safely inside the house, which is in turn connected to the computer. Because of that, the rest of us on the network we were able to receive immediate early warning of, and to study this detection in real time.
Bravo to the Frederic WI station for this improvisational outdoor monitoring station design. If we ever do have an apocalypse, we can turn toward innovative and resourceful persons like the Frederic station operator to re-build our world.
Of course, the big question is, "What caused the elevated radiation reading. Was it Radon washout or something more sinister?" For that answer, the Frederic station will be immediately scanning his whole house intake, HEPA filter for any captured radiation particles in the first place, followed in a few days with a similar scan to see if any elevated reading has subsided, likely pointing to short half-lived, natural Radon washout, or otherwise to foreign contaminants which could be further verified by a lab using Gamma spectroscopy. We'll will keep you posted if the findings point to foreign contaminants.
Postscript: 6/16/12, 10:50 A.M: - Radiation Alert from Indiana
You may notice that the South Bend, Indiana station that triggered the high Alert on June 6th is back online. He plans to operate his station only while he is there to attend it, and has taken interim steps to improve the integrity of his system until he can build a dedicated setup just for the purpose of this radiation monitoring. A few new facts:
I myself have limited knowledge in electronics, but this station operator is very experienced, and putting all of the above facts together, along with the makeup of his system, which involved a series of UPS backups in combination with GFCI outlet and serial connections, his best judgment is that a ground loop had developed and triggered the high radiation levels showing on the softwares that fed the radiation networks - a fluke in his particular hardware combination.
In conclusion, the station operator has worked diligently in troubleshooting the problem, and has taken interim and permanent steps to build strong integrity into his monitoring system. He has been fully cooperative and responsive since the alert, and he has my full support. He wishes to reiterate his deep apology for the concern his false alert caused.
For our part, we at the Radiation Network need a faster reacting system to end false alerts sooner, but only after we have reasonably determined that the alert is in fact false. The genuine alerts stay - in keeping with our function as an early warning system.
One final note: Some media reports of this incident seemingly confused these two:
Big difference in many ways. You might review my assessment of "Radiation Monitoring by Government vs. Private Citizen", the 3/29/11 Update from the Archive2 page linked above.
Update: 6/10/12, 7:50 A.M: - Readings from Russia
One of our southern California stations just completed a trip to Ryazan, Russia, 120 miles southeast of Moscow, and took along his Inspector, connecting to the Network so we could see his readings. His average was 38 CPM which is a pretty normal reading for the high count rate Inspector at the local 500' elevation.
This is a good opportunity to visit the makeup of nuclear sites in Russia, totaling 42 (my data is a little old, but you get the point). As you might expect, it mirrors that of the US:
The notable difference in the list above is that Russia is alone in having developed a fleet of nuclear powered icebreakers. For those who thought the number of nuclear sites in Russia would be much greater, it definitely was under the former Soviet Union. For instance, the former state and now Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan was a major locale for Soviet uranium mining and processing, and much of the atomic bomb testing was conducted there as well.
And then of course there is the former Soviet state, now sovereign nation of Ukraine, famous for the disastrous Chernobyl nuclear plant which you can see on the map above, northwest of the capital of Kiev. There are actually 4 reactors at Chernobyl (originally 6 were planned), the accident occurring in Reactor #4. Incredibly, even after the accident, reactors 1, 2, and 3 continued to operate because of the ongoing need for energy production, but in subsequent years, those remaining 3 reactors were shut down. Much has been written on the Chernobyl disaster - here is a link to an interesting motorcycle diary:
Update: 6/7/12, 7:45 A.M: - False Alert: The alert level reading last evening appears to be a false alert from an equipment malfunction. Here is the station's report:
"out of control readings on the GeigerGraph screen from about 11:30pm local time that occurred while sleeping. My apologies to all. I have no idea what caused this. Shut down GeigerGraph and restarted. Readings from the Geiger were in the normal range (the Geiger operates on A/C). All cable connections are tight and not loose. Am speculating between the GFI and USB Adapter and some sort of voltage spikes. The uninterruptable power supply UPS had lost power and had died - a tripped GFI. I am not going to leave the system running while not at home until I can determine and fix the problem."
By the way, a handful of stations on the Radiation Network feed simultaneously to the Black Cat Systems network, which explains why a high reading was showing on their network at the same time. But Black Cat works in uR/hr instead of CPM, so their radiation level was lower because of the conversion factor between units of measurement.
Update: 6/6/12, 11:55 P.M. - Very high reading in South Bend, IN station this evening. Reason unknown. Station unresponsive to contact at this late hour. Since this same station has triggered the Alert system before, which Alerts may have been false, and because his current readings do not appear to be corroborated by nearby stations, we have disabled his station for the time being. Will report back when we know more.
Update: 6/4/12, 4:20 P.M. - Server issues resolved. Simple matter of upgrading capacity to keep up with growth of the Radiation Network. I was starting to wonder myself, but as it turns out, there was no sinister explanation behind the issues, no virus, etc. Thank you all for your patience during this period.
Update: 5/29/12, 6:20 P.M. - Troubleshooting points to required infrastructure enhancement which is scheduled by D-Day. Please hang in there, and thank you for your patience.
12:30 P.M. - Network restored - but still issues to resolve.
Update: 5/25/12, 12:10 P.M. - Network Down - Intermittent Server issues this morning leading to lack of connectivity altogether. Reason unknown. Troubleshooting now. Thank you for your patience.
Update: 5/23/12, 5:00 P.M. - Detection in Colorado
This morning, at about 7:00 A.M. local time, the Rattler station in eastern Colorado recorded an elevated level of environmental radiation, as shown on the included graph. While it was short of triggering the 100 CPM Alert level on our network, the graph definitely shows an upward trend for a period of an hour or so. This extent of a wave pattern is pretty unusual.
Rattler operates the ultra-sensitive, pancake-tubed Inspector model which records normal background radiation at about 50 CPM (his elevation is 4,200 feet). So his average had moved up to about 60 CPM, or 20% higher, and for those who focus on spikes, you can see that one minute average in the mid 80's. Rattler was monitoring indoors at the time, with his Inspector near a window. I don't believe it was raining. After the elevated readings had subsided, he moved the Inspector outdoors for later in the day.
I call attention to this detection, not because of any really alarming reading, but due to its interesting similarity to the Taos, NM detection from a few months ago (scroll down to the 1/19/12 and 1/25/12 Updates). Elevated readings by both the CO and NM stations were made indoors, using Geiger counters built around the same ultra-sensitive pancake GM tube, and from a high altitude location near the Front Range of the Rockies. And one final similarity - it appears that the southern end of the jet stream flowed above at those two different times.
"What caused the elevated radiation level?" Fukushima? Radon? To answer this, I suppose an outdoor filtered collection system could trap sufficient accumulated radioactive particles from the air over time which could then be subjected to Gamma Spectroscopy for analysis of isotope content. But I have limited knowledge in this area, so I'm going to talk to a couple of people, and may have more to report later.
Update: 5/12/12, 8:30 A.M. - Radiation Monitoring from Japan
There is a heightened sense recently of increased radiation danger from Fukushima because of the yet uncontrolled reactors, combined with the unsafe storage of spent fuel rods. I have received emails from a number of viewers wondering why the radiation levels from our stations in Japan are not showing obvious danger, and of course, I get the occasional profane and insulting attack that we are covering up the truth or being negligent. Below are today's graphs for 3 current Japan stations, Sapporo located on the northern island of Hokkaido, Miyagi only 68 miles north of Fukushima, and Yokohama Rad in the Tokyo/Yokohama metro area.
At least 2 of the 3 stations use Geiger counters built around the very common LND 712 GM tube, which offers reasonable sensitivity, detecting Alpha and Beta, in addition to Gamma. The Miyagi and Yokohama stations are monitoring indoors. The average readings of the 3 stations are 11, 13, and 11 CPM (Counts per Minute), respectively. These are in the normal range for that GM tube at or near sea level, but note how the Fukushima area station is reading somewhat higher than the others, which may very well be relevant.
There is an inverse square law at work with radiation detection. For example, quadrupling your distance away from a radioactive source reduces the radiation level 4 squared, or sixteen-fold. (To you scientists out there, please correct me if I got this wrong). This explains why a Monitoring Station in Yokohama, 170 miles from Fukushima, is not showing elevated levels of radiation, and definitely answers the question as to why the US, at 5,000 miles distant, has seen little increase in environmental radiation levels.
Would it help if our stations in Japan were monitoring outdoors? - Yes! Would it be better if these stations were using yet more sensitive Geiger counters, like the Inspector with its pancake-style GM tube? - Definitely! Would it add scientific muster if our network had dozens of stations, i.e. more data points, operating in Japan? - Absolutely! So we are all in agreement on that, although I am thankful for the contributions of the stations currently reporting. Ours is a volunteer network, so we are largely reliant on the willingness of individual stations to contribute. For those who want more complete data, I refer you again to Safecast.org, a reporting network in Japan - click on this link for their Map page:
Update: 5/3/12, 1:25 P.M. - False Alert out of Colorado
A quick note to convey that the reading of 500 CPM +/- out of Colorado a couple of hours ago was a false alert. The Station Operator had undergone a recent medical diagnostics test where a radioactive isotope had been administered into his body, and when he approached his Geiger counter back home, he unwittingly set off the alert. Sorry.
Update: 3/18/12, 9:00 A.M. - A Poor Man's Radioactive Isotope Identifier
On March 17th, the Nokaoi station in Durham, NC detected an elevated level of radiation high enough to trigger the Alert system on the Radiation Network. He operates an external probe Detector built around the same ultra-sensitive pancake-style GM tube as is used in the Inspector models. In this case, his detector was outdoors on the porch during a severe thunderstorm, protected from the rain.
By now, most of us know that radioactive rainfall can be naturally radioactive due to the decay of Radon gas daughter products brought down by the precipitation. The same principle can apply to a radioactive filter in a building's HVAC system. So how does one determine whether or not the radiation detected by his or her Geiger counter falls into the "natural" category, versus something more sinister? Well, there are a couple of choices:
So, to use the Nokaoi station as an example, if he captures some of that rainwater from the passing storm, immediately scans it to confirm that the sample is radioactive, then comes back a day later and surveys that same water, finding that the readings remain elevated, then that is bad news. At that point, Nokaoi would be well advised to send the sample to a lab that uses the specialized equipment described above, that could confirm the presence of dangerous, man-made radioactive isotopes.
Thanks again for your support. Tim Flanegin
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