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reprinted with permission from
EFMR Monitor, Monitoring radiation trends in the Three Mile Island area
December 1997
pp. 8-9.

Radiation-Monitoring Reveals Interesting Data
by Linda Schatz

Friends cautioned me about visiting my boyfriend at his cabin, beautifully nestled in the woods of northern Maryland and five miles south of Peach Bottom Nuclear Reactor. They informed my boyfriend, Rick, and I that Peach Bottom was one of the worst reactors in the country, notorious for leaking radioactivity and for numerous other NRC violations.

My soul searching didn't last too long. I decided not to visit my boyfriend until I knew for sure how safe his cabin was, and the area around his cabin. For safety's sake I stayed in and around Philadelphia.

Rick and I began our own search for information about the safety of his area. Our search led us to Eric Epstein, who runs the EFMR Monitoring Network in Harrisburg, PA, from whom we obtained two Radalert Nuclear Radiation Monitors.

These devices measure how many "rads," a standard unit of radiation, are in the area of the device. One setting on the Radalert measures counts per minute (cpm), and the other setting counts total rads. The average reading in this part of the world is about 14 cpm, though there is always a fluctuation from minute to minute, and from place to place. EFMR asks its Radalert participants to notify the organization if the device records consecutive readings over 30 cpm.

We found many interesting readings with our devices. First, it turned out that Rick's cabin actually had lower readings (14.3 cpm) than my Philadelphia apartment (17.5). I have since learned that my apartment is within a 50 mile radius of three PA and two NJ nuclear plants. Jay Gould, author of The Enemy Within, found across the nation that there were higher rates of deaths due to cancer and immune diseases in communities that were within a 50 mile radius of nuclear plants.

And even though Rick's cabin is only five miles from Peach Bottom, I decided that, in the event of an accident, we would probably have a better chance of evacuating Rick's cabin in rural Maryland than I would trying to evacuate the Philadelphia area. Weighing the odds, I went back to Rick's cabin, happy to enjoy the woods again, and to be away from the higher levels of radioactivity in my apartment.

Rick and I did some traveling and took our monitors with us. In West Virginia, out on the open highway, we saw. our lowest reading: 2 cpm. On another trip, we went to Oak Ridge, TN, each of us driving separate vehicles. As we compared readings along the way, Rick's readings were inevitably higher, even when we switched Radalerts. Eventually he determined that the elevated readings in his truck were caused by a U.S. Navy-issued clock that he had owned for years.

Although the clock did not have luminescent dials or numbers, the Radalert would shoot up over 100 cpm when it was placed in close proximity to the clock. Rick sequestered the clock.

On to Oak Ridge, TN, a city I figured would have high readings due to the abundance of nuclear research that has gone on in the city. As a frame of reference, I took random readings when I got about an hour and a half outside the city. These readings ranged from 7 cpm to 23 cpm. Within the city limits, I was relieved to find radiation levels in a low to normal range: 5-14 cpm. Six weeks later, a sampling of radiation levels in Oak Ridge was closer to those in my apartment.

I had to go to the dentist and I needed four bite-wing x-rays. I decided to bring my Radalert along to find out just how many rads I was exposed to in these "routine, harmless and very low-level x-rays." First x-ray -- zap! The Radalert recorded 1168 rads in a split second. The next three x-rays recorded 1214, 1192, and 1154 rads. All told, in four split seconds I received a dose of radiation equivalent to being in my apartment for four hours.

Last year my son attended a school in Glenmoore, PA, within an eleven mile mile radius of Limerick Nuclear Power Plant. Radalert readings at the school were lower than in Philadelphia, averaging 13.2 cpm.

My son and I talked with other students and the staff about the monitoring device and radiation levels. We found out about the school's emergency evacuation plan which the director developed and which uses back roads heading west. The school's director had fought local officials so her school would not have to use the main roads everyone else was supposed to use in case of an evacuation. We found that PECO pays for a phone at the school that is there only for emergency use -- to notify the school of any safety or evacuation procedures that might be necessary in the event of a nuclear disaster.

My biggest surprise of radiation levels was on a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia. Radalert readings ranged from 270-330 cpm until we started to descend. A flight attendant told me that radiation levels are even higher on flights to Europe.

Oh a second flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia, this time at night, I was even more surprised by the Radalert readings. For forty minutes, Radalert readings ranged from 278-448 cpm. For seven consecutive minutes, readings were above 400 cpm. In forty minutes I'd been exposed to 15,240 rads -- the same amount I would receive in 15 hours in my apartment.

The effects of radiation are cumulative in the body. The kinds radiation levels that I've monitored can be harmful and cause cancer. Some of these levels are the result of technology and industry, performed without regard for their consequences. I hope we increase our commitment to choose life styles and international cooperation that promotes health for all people, creatures and our planet Earth.


The EFMR Monitoring Group at TMI

The EFMR Monitoring Group at TMI is a nonprofit, nonpartisian organization that monitors radiation trends in the Three Mile Island (TMI) area. The Group was formed as a result of a settlement between Eric Epstein and GPU Nuclear.

EFMR owns 60 Radalert monitors which measure beta and gamma radiation, these monitors are deployed at 50 stations in eight Pennsylvania counties around the TMI nuclear power station; there are two additional Radalert stations in Maryland.

EFMR has five low-volume air samplers installed on the East and West shores of TMI, and a control station located at Dickinson College. Dickinson College's Physics Department collects the filters and cartridges on a weekly basis. Analyses performed include, but are not limited to, weekly gross beta and alpha measurements, a monthly gamma isotopic analysis, a weekly iodine-131 analysis, and a semiannual Strontium-90 analysis.

The Group also enjoys on-line access to the General Public Utility's Reuter-Stokes gamma monitoring system and information from the remote temperature detector installed at the base of the TMI-2 reactor vessel.

Direct your comments or questions to:

Coordinator -- Eric Epstein

Statistician -- Richard Stober, Economic Insights

Editor -- David Raeker-Jordan

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