Inspector General Audit of EPA RadNet system during Fukushima disaster highlights weaknesses of key national asset

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An April 19th report by the EPA Inspector General’s Office casts more doubt on an already embattled radiation monitoring system in the United States after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

This week in retort, the EPA stated emphatically that it stands by its radiation detection work in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

However, advocacy groups – including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Committee to Bridge the Gap – have repeatedly raised concerns about broken and out of service monitors in an August 2011 letter to the agency and during an October 2011 presentation to top EPA officials in Washington.

The RadNet Monitoring System and Operational Philosophy

In essence, the RadNet monitoring system consists of 124 stations scattered throughout U.S. territories and 40 deployable air monitors that can be sent to take readings anywhere, according to the IG report. The monitoring stations collect air, precipitation, drinking water and milk samples for analysis of radioactivity.

The RadNet system is managed by the RadNet Real-Time Air Monitoring operations manager, NAREL.  Computers at the EPA National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory in Montgomery, Ala., continuously review real-time air monitor data from the stations.

The RadNet operations manager has no backup person. The NAREL acting director acknowledged that staffing was a critical area to be resolved, but did not present any specific plans for resolution.

In addition, volunteer operators are expected to change the particulate air filters at the stations twice per week and send them to Montgomery for a more detailed analysis that can detect radiation the real-time computer monitoring cannot.

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