The Buckyball Stops Here

Isotopic Identifier won’t detect low levels of Fukushima fallout in the field where needed

Assumption is the enemy of science and reason. This has been clear since the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdowns began March 11, 2011.

Governments like the United States and Canada immediately began to assume that there was no chance that fissionable radionuclides could traverse the 5,000+ miles and impact the air, rain, snow. soil, food, drink and environment of North America. They were dead wrong.

So were we. Since the worst single man-made environmental disaster in history has wrecked havoc on Japan and points east, EnviroReporter.com‘s usually anonymous detractors have argued that we couldn’t confirm that the radionuclides we have detected in over 1,500 tests since last year’s Ides of March came from Fukushima even as we proved that there was no other logical source since “natural” so-called radon progeny was not the culprit. We believed these armchair experts because we assumed that they were right because, in a way, they were.

Even though our Inspector Alert nuclear radiation monitors are extremely sensitive and can distinguish between alpha, beta and gamma radiation, we too became convinced that positively identifying the isotopes we were measuring would put to rest any doubt that North America, and the rest of the world north of the equator – for now, is beginning of The Endless Bummer.

It still is our contention that isotopic identification is crucial, but our assumption that we could bypass notoriously inaccurate, expensive and ethically-challenged laboratories with a souped-up isotopic identifier in the field was presumptuous.

It is not possible. Isotopic identifiers like the ones we were looking at had no chance of detecting anything in the numerous situations we expected to be using one. In fact, these isotopic identifiers are not only costly – in the tens of thousands of dollars for the equipment, software, optional equipment and support – they are so insensitive that that detecting, for example, background concentrations of the most dangerous isotopes is impossible.

Indeed, the Inspector Alert is thousands of times more sensitive than portable isotopic identifiers making the quest to buy one of these systems futile for our purposes. Therefore, our campaign to raise tens of thousands of dollars to buy such a system was in vain. There is no reason to even have one of these systems as they are meant for grossly contaminated “brownfields” and not the kind of tests you’ve watched us perform for over thirteen months.

There are, howerever, isotopic identifiers like the HPGe gamma-ray spectrometer, including Baltic Scientific Instruments’ portable system from Latvia, that will detect very low and low levels of the radionuclides we’ve been measuring at Radiation Station Santa Monica. The problem with that system for us is that it is liquid nitrogen-cooled making it too complicated and hazardous to operate in our office.

My wife and editor, Denise Anne, has endured many changes to our lifestyle since the Fukushima disaster and EnviroReporter.com‘s coverage. This one wouldn’t fly. “I draw the line at having liquid nitrogen on the premises and you working with it,” she said. End of that.

She had reason for concern. At Texas A & M., a liquid nitrogen tank, with malfunctioning pressure relief valves which were then sealed, exploded and launched through the ceiling of a lab at 3 am January 12, 2006. Chemistry Building Number 484’s lab looked like it had been hit by a bomb.

The tank ended up in the penthouse mechanical room and would have blown out of the top of the building were it not for the jungle of pipes it slammed into. The chemical glove box was completely destroyed when it shot through the lab door then down a corridor breaking through a window and smashing into a flower bed.

So a liquid nitrogen is out along with the expensive and insensitive isotopic identifiers.

The first isotopic identifier system we looked at, that would have cost over $34,000 not including support, was 4,800 times less sensitive than the Inspector Alert making it useless for detecting any of the different ways Fukushima radiation is impacting Southern California and beyond.

Even the goo at Rocketdyne wouldn’t set one of these devices off as we found out looking at other isotopic identifiers that were recommended to us.

Soon the estimate for the top of the line system isotopic identifier exceeded $50,000 with sales tax and tax liabilities included. That was 43% higher than the already-high figure we thought we had to raise.

When that seemed untenuous, the sales rep imparted that this reporter probably wouldn’t need the best system anyway since I wasn’t a Ph. D research scientist or Certified Health Physics professional with many years of industry experience.

I found that odd since it would have been clear from the beginning of a long series of correspondence that I was an investigative journalist looking to continue, expand and improve what we’ve been doing since March 15, 2011.

“We are not in the business of downselling our customers,” the rep wrote referring to the practice of selling a doubting customer a cheaper version of what they originally wanted.

Yet a revamped price package ended up coming to around $25,000 including support, taxes and various other expenses. The fine print proved disappointing when it came to applying the isotopic identifier to the work of EnviroReporter.com.

For example, the agreements on consent between the state of California and the feds to clean up Rocketdyne, the sprawling Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys, hinge on remediating the place back to the normal levels of chemicals and radionuclides, i.e. background. For a journalist reporting on this, having a nuclear radiation monitor that can detect down to background is crucial.

That would not have been the case with the $25,000 isotopic identifier system. According to the specs, nonewithstanding the strange lack of some measuring units in them, the identifier’s most sensitive detecting ability for Cesium-134 was 6,865 times the isotope’s background at Rocketdyne. For Cesium-137, the system’s minimum detectable activity was 196,389 times the radionuclide’s background at the lab as recently determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

I wrote the sales rep for clarification:

Applying this system to the kind of reporting we do on EnviroReporter.com, I was hoping you could confirm (or not) whether it will be effective in testing the material we have that are at or near background and multiples of background for these radionuclides.

Will the [isotopic identifier] be able to accurately detect and identify isotopes at these multiple of background levels like those in the rain sample we tested in “L.A. Rain Radiation Over Five Times Normal” available at http://www.enviroreporter.com/2012/04/l-a-rain-radiation-over-five-times-normal/?

Can the [isotopic identifier] be able to accurately detect and identify isotopes at the levels found in soils shown in this presentation at http://www.enviroreporter.com/files/Presentation_StakeholderMeeting_22Feb12-MC.pdf?

These are the levels that we are currently finding and testing and I want to make sure that the [isotopic identifier] system will be able to detect at these levels. I look forward to your reply.

The sales rep did not reply.

As disappointing as this is, the bright side includes not having to raise tens of thousands of dollars donated by kind and concerned people like yourselves.

We did raise $2,785.00, however, from twelve people whom we will contact and offer their donations back.

The buck stops here. The buckyball also stops here.

This reporter’s greatest regret is having given hope to people that we would be able to increase our effectiveness by identifying Fukushima isotopes in the field. While that may not be possible, it is certainly possible to identify Fukushima radiation in the water, air, ocean and at Radiation Station Santa Monica as we have clearly demonstrated. In fact, our Inspector Alerts are thousands of times more sensitive than isotopic identifiers designed for field work.

Meltdown and fallout deniers along with anonymous pro-nuclear self-appointed experts will continue to attempt to sidetrack our efforts exposing the extent of the threat of Fukushima’s meltdowns to this region and across the land. They will not succeed. The good sound science we employ when taking our own samples and analyzing them and the reports of other instances of hot contamination impacting humanity and the environment will continue and expand.

We’ll let the numbers do the talking using the best equipment available and applying the knowledge we’ve learned in 14 years of environmental reporting. Thousands of other folks who have Inspector Alerts and similar detectors will also be confident that theirs is the best machine for the challenge of documenting and protecting against the ever-increasing scourge that is Fukushima Daiichi.

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  1. Daniel says:

    Always good work. Why is it that I find Busby suspect? Yes it matters what the substance is, but if it registers on my Inspector Alert, I am not touching it, growing in it, or eating it. Thanks for your diligent and levelheaded reporting. In St. Louis and armed with knowledge and meter…

  2. Movieyawn says:

    Michael and Denise, why not use the funds to submit a few samples to one of those labs with expensive equipment. Then analyze and publish the results – and see what unfolds …

  3. Poppycock Darling says:

    Mike and Denise, please do not give up so hastily your quest in finding answers. Your frustrations are more than understandable. BUT — regarding the heroic goal of identifying specific isotopes, you will really then KNOW (see prof Busby’s work on the topic, below):

    “In the case of the hot particles and sequentially decaying isotopes like Strontium-90 or Tellurium-132, they have the ability to decay twice or several times. This can result in a second event hazard because an initial hit to a cell can force it into repair and replication sequences during which a second hit will result in an invisible mutation, because the cell will not be able to do a second repair before it replicates. [Busby 1997, Cox and Edwards, 2000, Busby, 2000]”

    http://www.llrc.org/belarus.htm

    Have you interviewed Dr. Chris Busby yet? He is often in the Los Angeles area and has been an expert witness for victims of Rocketdyne in the recent past (see his C.V.). Also, consulting with helpful non-pro-nuke Health Physicists such as Mr. Dan Parks (Ventura County resident) will go a long way in learning how they go about detecting specific isotopes. Dan was active as a community member and put several state and federal regulators to task at SSFL meetings, not to mention nailing the polluter felon as well.

    An Inspector Device, though wonderful in its own right, cannot distinguish the decay sequences of say hot particles I131 or Pu239 or Sr90 or tell us if you are actually specifically detecting either I131, either Pu239 or Sr90, for example. It cannot tell you what it is, specifically, you are sampling for at Rocketdyne, either. There is a way to find this info…

    Touring laboratories in California that DTSC relies upon is one thought. GETTING AWAY FROM SM FOR A WHILE AND ACTUALLY GOING to UCB to observe the Germanium detection apparatus up there is another. Visiting a milk dairy and observing the methods that are used to detect Cs134 or Cs137 or I131 or Sr90 in milk is another. Know why Vitamin D is added to American Milk? To somehow protect us from Sr90. Know when it began to be added to our milk? During atmospheric nuke tests. Vitamin D is here to stay, for good reason. So, the milk people know something the rest of us do not, have you investigated this angle? What about local universities such as CalTech, UCSD, CSULB? How about PSR’s help regarding medical radiation equipment, et al — isotopes galore are in use these days for a myriad of diagnoses and treatment methodologies on both humans and animals. Physicians and Veterinarians alike must KNOW the specific isotopes in play as they go about working with their patients.

    Spectroscopy similarly has its limitations it seems. Relying on just one analytical method is shortsighted. Please keep searching, you will find answers.

    Respectful observance: I always thought that asking for donations made you guys look cheap — like salesmen on a one-way street — there has got to be a more thoughtful and effective way to achieve what you want here as an investigative reporter.

    Busby: “Following an initial decay from an Sr-90 atom bound to a chromosome, the second decay from the daughter, Yttrium-90, whose half-life is 64hrs can hit the same cell in the induced replication sequence with a probability that is simple to calculate. The same dose from external radiation has a vanishingly small chance of effecting the same process. The second type of Second Event exposure, referred to in Busby 2000a, is from micron or sub- micron sized ‘hot particles’. If lodged in tissue, these will decay again and again increasing the probability of multiple hits to the same cell inside the 10 hour repair replication period…”

    The Second Event Theory. Makes more sense now the need to identify the isotopes found at Radiation Station rather than guess at them with the Inspector’s CPM counts that in no way show if you are dealing with Yttrium-90 or parent Strontium-90 (by way of yet another example). Each isotope needs identifying. As you two well know, some isotopes are calcium-mimicking-bone-seekers (Sr90), some are potassium-mimicking-muscle-seekers (Cs137), some hang out in glands like thyroid-seeking I131, the list goes on and on… The Inspector Device does NOT distinguish between internal damaging hot particles, no matter how loud one shouts POPPYCOCK. CPMs are just CPMs only. As Professor Busby and others illustrate, we need to KNOW what SPECIFICALLY is in the air, dust, soil, water, and food. CPMs do not fulfill that critical need. Counting is not the same as identifying.

    Buck up and smile, your work is invaluable, and does not go unappreciated in this neck of the woods.

  4. david says:

    hey fella

    i know you must be real disappointed, but i think the contributors would be up for you using the raised funds to buy more inspectors.

    with a lump of cash like that, you should be able to get a good wholesale price. one each for the contributors? plus a few spare…………….

    dont go down the drain friend – much depends on you keeping up the fight.

    with peace and prayers

  5. SAR says:

    Mike and Denise, I can appreciate your hard work in ferreting out the minutia of radioactivity detectors and in the overall threat of radiation released from Fukushima (and/or elsewhere on our own continent), but the thing I think is missing in the pantheon of environmental reporting is an understandable summation of the situation (not couched so much in the science of alpha, beta, isotopes or radionuclides, but in a way that real humans can relate to and act upon. A primer, I suppose, of what we can do to protect ourselves, and what we might expect for the future.

    As it is, I fear going outside during rainstorms, much less planting my annual food garden. The details of an isotopic identifier doesn’t help me very much.

    Thank you,

    SAR

  6. Hako says:

    Thank you for your diligence and frank assessments in a confusing time. We need more objectivity and accountability, and less careless talk. I will continue to follow your findings and reports, with the understanding that new information, when it emerges, will be presented fairly.

  7. RutherfordsGhost says:

    Get yourselves a big NaI detector and google some of the kits on Ebay for gamma spec.

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