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Monitoring local radiation monitoring in the US

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 14, 1990) Fifteen local homeowners, living downwind of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which, since the reactor meltdown eleven years ago, sent fallout over Harrisburg and surrounding communities have set up their own independent radiation monitoring network. Among them is Debbie Baker, chairwoman of TMI Alert, who uses a Radalert radiation monitor.

(338.3384) WISE Amsterdam - Citizen groups like hers have sprung up to fill the void left by government and industry representatives who have proven themselves unable (or unwilling) to guarantee the health and safety of citizens. David Quaid, a filmmaker and a resident of Duxbury, Massachusetts, was the first to start a US Citizens' Radiological Monitoring Network (CRMN) in December 1989. CRMN now has 30 volunteers monitoring radiation levels in a five-town area surrounding the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, south of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Each CRMN volunteer is equipped with a US $275 Radalert monitor that not only records alpha, beta and gamma radiation, but also is set to sound an alarm If the levels soar above 30 strikes per minute (three times the normal background radiation). Dr Jeff Hergenrather, a physician with International Medcom, the California company that manufactures the hand-held Radalerts, calls CRMN "the most comprehensive monitoring program for a nuclear power plant in the world."

CRMN's first readings were taken on 26 December, 1988, a few days before the restart of the Pilgrim reactor. This allowed residents to obtain baseline readings of naturally occurring radiation levels. Once a week each monitor sends a report to Quaid who first enters the information in a computer and then forwards it to state health officials and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Quaid explained that since state and federal authorities only read their radiation monitors four times a year, any sudden releases of radiation vanish as they are averaged out over each three-month period. CRMN's daily monitoring has indeed revealed significant "spikes" of concentrated radiation released from the Pilgrim reactor. "When they shut down and start up, more is released," Quaid reports. His records show that there was, for example, a measurable burst of fallout in early December 1989 when the Pilgrim plant had an emergency shutdown or "scram". As of January 1990, there have been three cases of excessive radiation releases. Each time Quaid reported these alarms, however, authorities assured him it was only "normal fluctuations in background radiation or barometric pressure." Dr Richard Clapp, head of the cancer registry in Massachusetts, has documented an increase in the levels of cancers and leukemias in the vicinity of the Pilgrim plant.

Source: Earth Island Journal (US), Summer 1990, p.17.

Contact: David Quaid, 21 Summers Street, Duxbury, MA 02332; Inter-national Medcom, 7497 Kennedy Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472.