The continuing nuclear accident disaster at TEPCO's Fukushima power plant has many people worried about radioactive contamination in the ocean and fish. The Physicians for Civil Defense noted on Tuesday there isn't enough radiation monitoring equipment in the U.S. to properly measure what's going on. And in the absence of good monitoring, we collectively generate fear and even panic.
Radiation risks are numerous. There are hundreds of nuclear reactors around the world, some of which might have accidents as bad as at Fukushima. There are others, so-called terrorists, who might get their hands on nuclear material for use in a terror attack. There is the continuing release of radioactive air and water from Fukushima itself, which has many worried whether it will poison the Pacific Ocean.
'If nuclear terrorism occurs, hundreds of thousands of lives could be needlessly lost, either because of unwarranted panic or inability to measure dangerous doses," states Jane Orient, M.D., president of Physicians for Civil Defense. "Emergency responders need instruments with a broad enough range, and an understanding of radiation effects at different levels," she states. "Ideally, every fire station should have a robust, affordable fallout monitor on the roof that constantly transmits readings via the internet."
According to the PCD, most current radiation detection instruments are designed for interdiction (detecting radioactive material), not managing events after a detonation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a network of monitoring stations, called RadNet, consisting of 100 fixed sites and 40 mobile units. The RadNet devices are costly, prone to failure, and have serious limitations. They cannot distinguish between a radiation level that causes no health effects, and one that is lethal within a few hours. Finally, because the RadNet devices sample the air periodically, they can miss detecting a rapidly changing radiation event.
There is an independent organization, RadiationNetwork.com, through which any person can set up their own radiation detector and provide data to a collaboratively generated map.
We're in a situation where there might be serious problems, or maybe not. Without adequate monitoring we don't know how serious the problem is, or not. Some are raising alarms saying, for example, that the Fukushima accident is poisoning the Pacific Ocean, which may be true, or not.
Physicians for Civil Defense: http://www.physiciansforcivildefense.org/
US EPA RadNet: http://www.epa.gov/radnet/