Radiation Alert System Half Baked in CA

Monday, March 28, 2011 @ 01:03 PM gHale

California’s radiation alert network is not fully functional, leaving the stretch of coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco without the crucial real-time warning system in the event of a nuclear emergency, federal officials said.

Six of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 12 California sensors — including the three closest to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo — are sending data with “anomalies” to the agency’s laboratory in Montgomery, Ala., said Mike Bandrowski, manager of the EPA’s radiation program.

The problem delays from 30 minutes to several hours the updating of a database that would be critical for warning the public in case of a sudden radiation danger from air wafting to the United States from a foreign country, for example, or from a radiation leak at a domestic nuclear facility.

The lag has not been a concern during the Japanese nuclear crisis because the minuscule amounts of radiation that have reached California have posed no threat to human health, and the plume of irradiated air from Japan is so widespread other equipment from Washington to Los Angeles has been able to monitor it in real time, Bandrowski said.

The troubled transmissions are part of the federal RadNet system, which is “designed to protect the public by notifying scientists, in near real time, of elevated levels of radiation so they can determine whether protective action is required,” according to the agency.

Without immediate information from RadNet, state and local emergency managers would be dependent on the private owners of nuclear power facilities to alert them in the first hours of a dangerous radiation leak from a domestic source.

“I believe the utilities monitor the sensors; they’re good about reporting things,” said David McIntyre, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which oversees nuclear reactors in the U.S. He added federal regulations require nuclear plant operators to report small problems that could lead to a release of radiation, so it’s unlikely such an event would come as a surprise.

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