US, New Mexico ink $74 million in settlements over nuclear radiation leak

US, New Mexico ink $74 million in settlements over nuclear radiation leak

Published January 22, 2016 by Associated Press

New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Energy inked $74 million in settlements over dozens of permit violations stemming from a radiation leak that forced the closure of the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.

The settlements are the largest ever negotiated between a state and the Energy Department and come after months of negotiations. The agreements were first outlined last spring, but their signing was delayed by disagreements over some of the details.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico has been closed since February 2014, when a container of waste burst and released radiation in the underground facility. Twenty-two workers were exposed, and monitors at the surface recorded low levels of radiological contamination, but officials said nearby communities were not at risk.

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January is Radon Month

January is Radon Action Month

by Jon Kelvey
Contact Reporter-Carroll County Times

January is Radon Action Month, as promoted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a campaign to encourage homeowners to take steps to ensure they are not being exposed to the radioactive gas, which can cause lung cancer. A test that is available at most hardware stores for about $20 can determine if radon levels in your home are high enough to warrant further testing, or even mitigation by a professional.

Angelo Bavetta, owner of Avanty Construction Services in Westminster, has been a radon mitigation professional for more than 20 years, and said that the EPA campaign is an important tool for getting the attention of local homeowners, who are at particularly risk of radon exposure.

“Radon is one of those things where it’s really, really hard for people to see taste and touch, so a lot of time people have a hard time believing in it,” Bavetta said. “The bottom line is that in Carroll County, northern Baltimore County, Frederick County; we are on a shelf of rock that produces a larger quantity of radon.”

Radon is a gas produced by the decay of the radioactive elements uranium and radium, and itself emits alpha particle radiation, according to the EPA website, a form of radiation that is normally too weak to be harmful outside the human body but which can be deadly if inhaled. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers in the U.S.

Radon is emitted from bedrock all the time and is everywhere, according to Bavetta, but it is in buildings where the gas can become concentrated and pose a hazard. In 1984, a Pennsylvania engineer named Stanley Watras working at a nuclear power plant set off new alarms installed at the plant to detect gamma radiation — high energy radiation similar to X-rays.

“They shut the plant down and said, ‘Holy crap, we have a leak,’ and no, it was his house,” Bavetta said.

The radon Watras had inhaled from his own home was decaying into other elements — such as polonium 218 and lead — and emitting gamma radiation, normally found in the core of a nuclear reactor, from inside of Watras.

“You are microwaving yourself from the inside out, or X-raying yourself from the inside out, depending on how you want to put it,” Bavetta said, “That’s why it’s so bad.”

Levels of radiation from radon are measured in picocuries. The EPA defines 4 picocuries per liter of air to be the cutoff, the concentration at which the radiation begins to be dangerous. The average indoor level for radon, according to the EPA, is 1.3 picocuries per liter of air.

“This is when I think scientists just giggle to themselves: ‘Pico’ is parts per trillion, and curies comes from Marie Curie who discovered radium,” Bavetta said. “They want 4 alpha particles in a liter of air, no more. … Loosely translated, that’s what they’re looking for.”

Home tests will detect radon concentrations and present homeowners with a number in picocuries, and while they are not perfectly accurate, Bavetta said, they can very quickly determine if concentrations are higher than the 4 picocuries per liter cutoff.

“It is very, very easy to get an artificially low number, but it’s impossible to get an artificially high number unless you are walking around with uranium in your pockets,” he said. “If you take the test and it comes back at a 10, it might be a 20; but I know you are at least at 10.”

A test result of 3.8 picocuries might mean a house is safe, but probably warrants the use of a more accurate test by a professional to be certain, according to Bavetta, while a test result of 40 picocuries would mean the house is in definite need of radon mitigation, and could be worse of than the inexpensive test lets on.

“Any time you get over 50 [picocuries], you are really, really getting into danger,” he said.

Radon mitigation, in the case that it’s necessary, involves the installation of a suction system that removes radon — and excess moisture or other contaminants — from beneath the concrete slab foundation of a home.

“The big fancy term is a sub-slab suction system, which is a fancy way of saying we pull the air out from under the slab and exhaust it outside so it’s no longer a health threat,” Bavetta said. “I have a lot of people now that are putting in radon systems because they are allergic to mold and mildew because these remove so much of the mold spores from under the slabs.”

On average, Bavetta said, a radon mitigation system will run between $1,000 and $1,500 for most homes, although an old Carroll County farm house might run a bit more. They should be checked every four to five years just to make sure the suction system is still working efficiently.

If a home has a radon problem, a mitigation system will have to be installed before it can be sold, which is why Bavetta suggests at least testing your home this month — if the levels are safe, you will have dropped $20 for piece of mind, and if mitigation is necessary, you’ll be making sure you gain the health benefit today, rather than just passing it on to the next homeowner.

“If you have a house in Carroll County, you’re going to eventually sell it, you’re going to fix it for someone else; you might as well fix it for yourself,” he said. “The worst part of my business is to put in a system for a house that’s being sold, where a person lived with this stuff for 20 years. They’re now fixing it for another homeowner and will never get any of the benefits from it.”

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Can we protect astronauts from radiation?

Can we protect astronauts from radiation?

Magnetic force fields may be the secret to deep space exploration.

Space travel comes with many risks, and as astronauts prepare for longer journeys deeper into our solar system, those risks will only grow. A European partnership seeks to mitigate one of the most harmful: cancer-causing radiation.

The European Union’s Space Radiation Superconducting Shield (SR2S) is researching and developing magnetic force fields to shield astronauts from radiation. The SR2S program, which was founded in 2013, is made up of seven partners, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN

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Atomic Bomb Measurement from Sea Turtle Shells

Atomic bomb radiation in sea turtles’ shells helps scientists figure out their age

by Brett Smith

The atomic bomb may be mankind’s worst-ever invention, but the instrument of destruction does have a tiny consolation for biologists: The bomb’s radiation offers is a trustworthy way to approximate the age, rate of growth, and reproductive maturity of wild sea turtles, according to a new study.

Published in the journal Proceedings of Royal Society B, the study said dating via atomic bomb radiation is more accurate than conventional techniques and may offer new details declines and insufficient recoveries of some endangered sea turtles communities.

“The most basic questions of sea turtle life history are also the most elusive,” study author Kyle Van Houtan, a marine life at Duke University, said in a press release.
In the study, scientists reviewed hard tissue samples from the shells of 36 hawksbill sea turtles archived since the 1950s. The turtles either passed away naturally or were poached for their shells. The scientists worked with various agencies, law enforcement, and museum archives to get the specimens.

The researchers estimated each turtle’s age by comparing the bomb-testing radiocarbon accrued in its shell to background amounts of bomb-testing radiocarbon lodged in Hawaii’s corals. Amounts of carbon-14 greater rapidly in the biosphere from the mid-1950s to around 1970 due to Cold War-era nuclear tests, but have fallen at predictable rates since then, allowing researchers to ascertain the age of an organism by using its carbon-14 content.

The scientists could approximate median growth rates and ages of sexual maturity in their specimens by contrasting their radiocarbon measurements to those of other wild and captive hawksbill populations with known growth rates.

Process also reveals why populations aren’t rebounding

In addition to giving researchers a more reliable tool for estimating turtle growth and maturity, the new process may reveal why some populations aren’t rebounding as rapidly as expected—despite years of serious conservation efforts.

“Our analysis finds that hawksbills in the Hawaii population deposit eight growth lines annually, which suggests that females begin breeding at 29 years—significantly later than any other hawksbill population in the world. This may explain why they haven’t yet rebounded,” Van Houtan said.

The study team’s method also revealed a warning sign for turtle populations.

“They appear to have been omnivores as recently as the 1980s,” Van Houtan said. “Now, they appear to be primarily herbivores. Such a dramatic decline in their food supply could delay growth and maturity, and may reflect ecosystem changes that are quite ominous in the long term for hawksbill populations in Hawaii.

Original Article can be found at

Message from the President

Dear Clients and Vendors,

I wish to reach out to all of you in response to the numerous changes that have taken place at Qal-Tek Associates. These changes have positioned Qal-Tek to be a leader in the industries in which we provide service and support. We take great pride in our mission to provide revolutionary solutions to age-old problems. This mission has guided Qal-Tek’s growth in many areas and has required several changes in our structure in order to improve our quality, rate of delivery, documentation and our ability to support our many clients.

Some of our changes include:

– New company ownership and management team
– A new customer service department to streamline client requests and support
– A new logistics database to improve our accuracy in scheduling work requests
– A new CRM system to support our customers tracking of leak tests, calibrations, documentation and all other forms of asset management
– A new Electronic forms system for electronic processing of radioactive materials shipment, transfers and receipts
– A restructuring of our Consulting Services department to allow better support of requests and ensure more timely and accurate documentation
– A reorganized accounting department to ensure more timely and accurate invoicing and payments
– Electronic client feedback processes to better respond to your requests.

We recognize that these changes have been significant and we thank you for your understanding and ongoing support throughout. Qal-Tek will continue to make the necessary improvements to continually increase our quality and reputation in the industry.

We invite you to contact us about our new online quality system and how we can help improve our services and quality.

Thank you for your business and we look forward to serving your needs.

Travis Snowder
Qal-Tek Associates

X-Rays may not cause cancer after-all

In recent years, there has been an overwhelming number of scientific studies claiming that, imaging techniques like X-rays and CT scans are carcinogenic.

But such studies have serious flaws, including their reliance on an unproven statistical model, according to a recent research article co-written by Dr. James Welsh, a professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Loyola University and Dr Jeffrey Siegel, the president and CEO of Nuclear Physics Enterprises in Marlton, N.J .

The article questions the common use of a statistical model called “Linear No-Threshold” (LNT) in studies that have found a connection between medical imaging and cancer. LNT model works by taking the recognised carcinogenic effects of high doses of radiation and extrapolating downward to lower dose. It assumes there is no safe dose of radiation, no matter how small.

“Although radiation is known to cause cancer at high doses and high dose-rates, no data have ever unequivocally demonstrated the induction of cancer following exposure to low doses and dose rates,” writes Dr. Welsh.

Welsh further questions the validity of LNG model by citing two recent studies that suggested increased cancer risks from radiation associated with paediatric CT scans , and explains that these cancers were more likely due to conditions that prompted the CT scan in the first place, and have less to do with radiation exposure.

GM Radiation Detectors – Understanding how they work

The most popular form of radiation detector used is probably the Geiger-Mueller (GM) detector. A GM detector is typically the device seen being used on TV shows and movies when measuring radiation. The GM detector is the device which is making clicking noises which clicks faster and faster when it is exposed to increasingly greater amount of radiation.

A GM instrument is really useful for detecting gamma radiation although this is generally the most common form of radiation being sought (although a GM is also often used to find contamination). There are other forms of radiation and many more types of radiation detectors but the GM detector is really fairly simple and robust. The GM detector design has largely been the same for almost 100 years.

To understand how a GM detector works, you probably need to start with a basic understanding of an electrical capacitor. An electrical capacitor is found in virtually every electronic device in one form or another, this is a device which can store electricity as though it were a tiny battery but it is used for so much more (such as in a GM detector).

The simplest form of an electrical capacitor is a pair of metal plates placed face to face very close to each other. If you connect one of the plates to an electrical ground, then you can store electrical charge on the other plate.

Most electrical circuits use this capability to change the shape of electrical pulses and signals in one way or another but a GM detector uses it to store as much charge as it possibly can. In fact, a GM detector has so much charge stored on its capacitive surfaces that it is almost ready to spark across the gap to relieve this large difference in potential. In this state, just a small electrical push is all that is needed in a GM detector to actually cause it to spark and equalize the charge on the two conductive materials.

When you have a capacitor in this state, just the small amount of ionization which occurs from a single radiation interaction between the conductors is enough to cause it to spark and so release the charge stored up. This is effectively what the GM detector is, a capacitor which continually recharges the capacitor each time it discharges to get ready to detect another radiation interaction. Each radiation interaction then triggers a little speaker to give off a click and so alert the user about a detection event.

The radiation interaction being detected is really just a single ionization event in the capacitor volume. When a gamma photon interacts with materials (including gas), this typically occurs with the photon knocking into an electron orbiting an atom and kicks it off the atom leaving the atom ionized. This ejected electron when inside the capacitive volume of a GM detector is enough to induce the spark and result in the characteristic ticking sound for which this design is most readily recognized.

A typical GM detector is sensitive enough to measure normal background gamma radiation from nature. At levels around 100 times greater than this, federal and state regulations start to require controls and protection. Around 1000 times background levels, health effects just start to become observable.

Moving away from a radiation source is extremely effective at reducing exposures. If your GM detector were reading 1000 times background levels at 1 foot from a high activity point gamma source, you would know it is not safe to stay by that source for long periods of time. By the time you simply moved 10 feet away from that same point source, your GM would show you that the radiation would already be down to around 10 times background.

Basically, every time you double the distance from the point source, the radiation field would decrease by a factor of 4 as measured by your GM detector.

Written by Robert Hayes, A fellow of the American Physical Society having a PhD in Nuclear Engineering and a MS in Physics, being a Certified Health Physicist and a licensed Professional Engineer

We need to think more about low level radiation

Radiation is all around us. It occurs naturally in our environment, coming to us from the sun, from the soil and foods that we eat and in the air that we breathe. It is omnipresent across a diverse cross section of industries. We tend to associate radiation with the nuclear industry, but we come across radiation in numerous areas: construction, health care, oil and gas, research, manufacturing and food processing, to name a few.

?With radiation being everywhere in our lives, it is not surprising that it garners a lot of attention, curiosity and, often, worry. With more than 15 years as a career radiation protection professional, I’ve had to respond to many occupational radiation safety questions. Some have related to regulations and compliance, others to potential health effects of exposure and ways to minimize such exposure. In all cases, it is best to rely on well-established radiation physics concepts and scientific data, where available.
While there is not much that we can do to escape natural background radiation, we do want to avoid unnecessary exposure to high levels of radiation, such as the potential hazard due to elevated radon in our homes and workplaces.

Radon testing of homes is the simplest first step you can take to protect yourself and your family from radon gas, but all too often we do not make the time to educate ourselves and make this a priority. Workplaces are required to have a radiation protection program in place that is appropriate for the type of radiation and potential risk in their industry. But it takes time and investment to develop these programs, and it requires the commitment of both employers and workers to put these programs into practice.
Our challenge is that radiation and its associated risks are not always well understood. On the one hand, we do not wish to alarm anyone unnecessarily, yet we want to make sure that the public, workers and employers are aware of the steps they need to take to stay safe. Remember, we are talking about an “invisible” hazard that very rarely causes ill health effects in the short-term. Additionally, the existing radiation protection models are built on what we call the linear no-threshold concept, which, in simple terms, is based on studies of the atomic bomb survivors from the Second World War in Japan and other high-exposure situations, and extrapolates the information to the potential health effects of low exposures.
An agency of the World Health Organization recently published a study on the health effects of low-level exposure to radiation that provides data to support the validity of the linear no-threshold model. We encourage all who read the study (available at The Lancet Haematology) to not get alarmed and to keep the study conclusions in perspective.

It suggests that extended exposure to low level of radiation increases the risk of developing leukemia. A frightening statement, but we have to keep in mind that the increased risk is small, in line with what we have estimated based on the modelling concepts.

This boils down to two things: first, it is important that we continue to apply the ALARA principle — “As Low as Reasonably Achievable” — to all our of interactions with radiation; and second, that we continue to view the numbers associated with radiation and risk in the proper context. The study points to a “small increase” of risk of dying from cancer from low levels of radiation exposure.
Let’s put this into perspective.

If we extrapolate this study’s conclusions for nuclear workers to persons living near Canadian nuclear plants, people are 6,000 times more likely to die in a car accident than to die from leukemia due to doses received from reactor plant emissions.

Yet most of us think nothing of driving to work, driving our kids to school, or driving to visit friends and family. The radiation risk is there, but it is significantly smaller than the risks we accept every day, often without even thinking or worrying about them.

More research is required on the health risks from low-level radiation exposure, and there are efforts underway around the world to make it happen. At the Radiation Safety Institute, we will be looking forward to hearing about more study results. In the meantime we invite all people who are interested in the subject of radiation safety, who have a question or a concern, to reach out to our Free Information Service at 1-800-263-5803 or by email at Let’s keep the conversation going.

Written by Laura Boksman who is a chief scientist at the Radiation Institute of Canada.

Genetic Testing Reveals Rad Exposure

A team of scientists have found an accurate way to immediately identify long term radiation damage by examining blood-bound genes, allowing more accurate predictions of who can survive radiation exposure after a nuclear catastrophe or a dirty bomb.

In previous nuclear incidents, such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the USSR or the 2011 Fukushima debacle in Japan, doctors and scientists were unable to accurately diagnose the radiation damage a patient has been exposed to.

They had to estimate the level of radiation poisoning by basing it on where someone was during a nuclear disaster or by taking blood samples and seeing how many white blood cells have died.

Neither of these two techniques can differentiate between a deadly dose of radiation and a very high but survivable one.

“After a radiation release, there is currently no way to tell who was exposed and who wasn’t, and if someone was exposed, is it lethal or not?” said Dipanjan Chowdhury of Dana-Farber’s Department of Radiation Oncology, the report’s senior author.

Chowdrhury together with a team of scientists at Harvard Medical School and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City have found a way of telling exactly what radiation dose someone has had by looking at the genes in their blood. Their findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

A tiny group of free-floating pieces of genetic information called microRNAs reveal how much radiation someone has received as well as the damage this will have on their body.

The scientists subjected two groups of mice to 650 rads of radiation, which is a high but survivable dose, and 800 rads which is lethal.

By any other means of analysis both groups of mice looked the same for the first two weeks after exposure, and it was only by testing their microRNAs that the scientists could determine which mice would survive.

MicroRNAs were identified only 20 years ago. They help the human body translate DNA into a workable blueprint to build new cells.

According to the new research, radiation actively alters the structure of the microRNAs in mice; the bigger the dose the greater the change. Only 68 of almost 170 types of microRNAs are in the blood, but the scientists found that by analyzing just a handful of these they could tell the amount of radiation damage someone had received in the first 24 hours after exposure.

“All of the equipment used to detect these microRNAs is already widely available in many clinics. So there’s no obvious reason that such a test would be expensive,” Chowdhury said, as cited by Popular Mechanics.

He is, however, worried that developing an emergency test for assessing radiation poisoning might take quite some time, as “unlike developing cancer drugs, this is not an area that’s considered very lucrative.”

Increased Radiation Levels in WIPP Underground

Air sampling results from the underground of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant have shown increased levels of radiation at Station A.

Station A, which is located before WIPP’s high efficiency particulate air filter, recorded increased measurements for both alpha and beta radiation between April 21 and April 24.

On April 23, the highest measurement of radiation was detected.

“The increases levels of radiation are because of the increased activities in and around Station A, because they are inside Panel 7,” said Russell Hardy, director for the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center.

Panel 7 is the panel where a fire and radiological release happened last year. Inside Room 7, a transuranic waste drum was exposed after a chemical reaction. As a result, WIPP was shut down.

The increased activity in Panel 7 can be from workers conducting decontamination activities, and preparing for the closure of Panel 7, Room 7, Hardy said.

“The foot traffic in that area is kicking up the dust, which is why you see those increased numbers,” Hardy said.

Air sampling results at Station B, which is after the large HEPA filter, do not show increased levels of radiation, meaning that the filter is holding the radiation in, Hardy said.

“These samples were analyzed following the detection of airborne radioactivity on February 14, 2014. They are not environmental samples, and are not representative of the public or worker breathing zone air samples,” the WIPP website said.

Also, samples taken from April 15 to May 1 show increased levels of americium and plutonium radiation at Station A. Samples from Station B, taken in the same time period, show no significant increase in activity.

“This means that the contaminated dust being re-suspended due to the workers performing decontamination activities in Panel 7 is being captured by the HEPA system,” Hardy explained in an email.

The Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center has had three ambient air monitoring stations located on or near the WIPP facility. One is located within the WIPP site boundary, one is about a half mile northwest of the facility and another is about 12 miles southeast of the facility.

With help from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office, the center added three additional ambient air sampling stations.

“One is located behind the CEMRC facility in Carlsbad, one located on the south side of Loving, and one located on the east side of the WIPP facility,” a news release from the center says.

“The addition of these new monitoring stations will help provide area residents and the scientific community with better information in terms of establishing the level of “normal” or background radioactivity present in the ambient air,” the news release said.

They will also provide detection capabilities if another emergency happen at WIPP.