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.