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Radiation levels: Compare and Contrast

Not related to radio engineering, however, I’ve been doing daily radiation measurements at my house (upstate NY) since the Fukushima disaster. A few bits of house keeping information first: This is a CD V-700 radiation meter, which is a model 6 manufactured by Anton. It was last calibrated in 1986. When I place the Geiger tube over the operational check source, it goes up to about 2 mr/hr as described in the owner’s manual. It may not be completely accurate, but it is accurate enough for this experiment.

This video was taken on March 17, 2011. It sets a good reference for normal background radiation levels:

This video was taken on March 27, 2011. It shows a significant increase in background radiation. Further, much of this appears to be gamma radiation, as the gamma shield is closed during this video:

Both of these videos were taken on the most sensitive (x1) setting. It shows that the radiation level is about 8 to 10 times above normal. It is a cause for concern, but not alarm. Not yet. If it continues at this level for several days or weeks, then the overall radiation exposure will begin to accumulate. Right now, it is about the same as taking two NY to Los Angles flights per day, according to this chart (0.35 mr/hr = 3.5 uSv per hour x 24 hours = 84 uSv per day):

Radiation chart

Radiation Chart

As of March 28, 2011, the wind has shifted more to the south west and the levels have dropped somewhat. From our beloved press corps, there have been a few reports here or there on this, most with the standard “this is nothing to worry about” disclaimer. I have also noticed a series of stories and reports that radiation is not all that bad, don’t worry about it, living next to a nuclear plant is fun(!), and we don’t know as much about radiation as we thought we did. I don’t know about all that, I’d rather base my opinion on the scientific body of evidence gathered over the last one hundred years or so. The conclusion of that information is that radiation is bad for human physiology and exposure should be limited.

There is also a crowd source website called “Radiation network,” which is showing all the levels across the US are normal. This makes me wonder about their instruments and or candor, you can draw your own conclusions.

The World Turned Upside Down

I have been watching the events unfold in Japan.  It is truly astounding the power of Mother Nature.  While several US networks seem to be tempering their coverage of the nuclear fuel melt, and yes, there are multiple reactor fuel melts in progress, other sources are forthright.  The BBC seems to be on top of things, as well as Russia Today.

Thus far:

  1. No fewer than four hydrogen explosions have taken place in all four reactors at the Fukushima-1 Power plant.  The after the third explosion yesterday in unit 2, there are two major concerns; breach of the reactor vessel(s) and run away nuclear fission.  After that explosion, the pressure in the unit 2 reactor suppression chamber dropped from three atmospheres to one atmosphere, indicating the suppression ring had breached.  Currently the nuclear disaster is categorized as a 6/7, surpassing Three Mile Island.  The worst case scenario:  Reactor Unit #2 completely breaches, this unit contains Mox fuel Note: unit #3 contains the Mox fuel. (mixed plutonium/uranium oxide), which is far more dangerous than the fuels in the other reactor vessels.  Mox fuel has a lower melting point and could potentially melt into a pool at the bottom of the reactor vessel resuming fission.  Criticality?  Yes, but not the high order type as seen in a nuclear weapon.
  2. The root cause of the disaster is loss of cooling after the reactors where shut down.  The nuclear fuel cores require cooling for at least two to four weeks after shutdown.  The backup diesel generators went off line approximately one hour after the units were automatically shut down during the earth quake.  Three probable causes for this have been proposed;  the electrical switch gear for the generators was in the basement of the generator building, which was flooded by the tsunami, fuel contamination/fuel loss, and submergence of the GENSETs by sea water.  All of three of these scenarios points to a design flaw.
  3. Radiation levels have varied but are elevated, peaking at various times before and after each explosion.  Until this morning, the major radiation plumes were being blown off shore.  The wind has become variable, causing the down wind zones to shift.
  4. Prevailing east winds could blow some of the contamination to the west coast of the US within 36-48 hours, east coast by 48-72 hours and in 7-10 days there will likely be a band of radioactive particles in the jet stream that circles the globe in the northern high latitudes.

Good explanations: MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub

I never though I’d recommend a Russian News media source, but they seem to be nailing it.  There is also some coverage on NHK shortwave frequencies:

All times UTC / target areas: af (Africa) as (Asia) eu (Europe) na (North America) pa (Pacific)

0500-0530: 5, 975 KHz (eu) 6,110 KHz (na) 9,770 KHz (af) 15,205 KHz (as) 17,810 KHz (as)
1000-1030: 9,605 KHz (as) 9,625 KHz (pa) 9,840 KHz (pa) 11,780  KHz (as)
1200-1230: 6,120 KHz (na) 9,625 KHz (pa) 9,790 KHz (eu)
1200-1300: 9,695 KHz (as)
1300-1330: 9,875 KHz (as)
1400-1430: 5,955 KHz (as) 9,875 KHz (as) 21,560 KHz (af)

But not to worry, everything is okay.  There will be no detrimental effects of this, whatsoever.

Regardless, I have headed down to the basement and dug up my CD V-700 RAD meter.  I salvaged this from the dumpster at WPTR after one of the contract engineers threw it away in the early 1990’s.  I believe I used this meter to measure the radiation from the tubes in the BT-25A and the MW50B transmitters.

According to the “Operational Check Source” on the side of the meter, it still works and is pretty close to calibration level.  Even if it is not totally accurate, it will still indicated an increase of radiation.

Anton Model 6 CD V-700 radiation meter

Anton Model 6 CD V-700 radiation meter

This is a Anton Model 6, which is the most sensitive of the V-700 series meters.  It can be used to check background radiation levels and/or contamination of food or clothing.  The best plan is not to ingest radioactive particles in food and water.  Why wonder about it, when you can know?

What passes for news these days:

Without further comment, via The Onion:

The FCC is studying the state of Journalism

The FCC has drafted a Notification of Inquiry (NOI) examining the state of media journalism in America. Why?  No harm can come from this, right?  Let us read a little further:

A major issue the report details is the possibility of “behavioral rules” for broadcasters, according to the official. Behavioral rules might include guidelines that broadcasts serve the public interest.

Bringing back Cold War-era guidelines mandating that broadcasters do “non-entertainment” programming is another idea being examined, according to the official.

From CNSNews.com

Doh! Now that most radio stations have fired their news departments, the government wants news.  Frankly, I think it is a dumb idea.  The hands of time can’t be turned back so there is no use trying.

There are radio stations out there that provide good local and national news, most NPR stations for example.  There are also a few commercial stations still doing it.  Those that can make money on it will and that is the way it should be.

I listen to the local NPR station’s (WAMC) program called “The Media Project.”  It is an interesting show where a Television news anchor, a local newspaper editor and the radio station president talk about media issues.  Often, it turns into a lament about how the internet news sources are cutting into their own audience because the internet is “free.”  The news paper editor in particular often feels that he is shouldering the burden (by paying the reporter’s salaries) of gathering the news and the free loading internet people who write blogs, like this one, merely leach off of the newspaper’s hard work.  And he has a point.

So charge for it.  I’d pay a $3-5 per month fee to have full on line access to a good local paper.  I think many other people would too.  When they started giving away their content is when they got into trouble and that is their own fault.  This would be a good formula:

  1. Media outlets (newspapers, TV stations, Radio stations, Cable companies, etc) get together come up with a policy for online content.
  2. A good example would be, limited free access to national stories and front page items and advertisements.  Charge a nominal subscription fee for locally generated content and full access.  Charge a higher fee for content without advertising (except classifieds).
  3. Create a website that is laid out like a newspaper.  Keep all the sections the same and make it very easy to navigate around in.

Some newspapers, like the New York Times, are already doing things like this.  The reality is that online media is here to stay.  Those legacy media outlets that want to survive are going to have to figure out a way to compete and make money online.

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