Sunday, February 7, 2016

Home Is Where the Radiation Is

Table 11 – Chernobyl Cs 137 Burden in Various Areas vs. Natural Background

Range (Bq/m^2)
European Cs 137 contamination outside former USSR
20,000 to 23,000
Cs 137 contamination inside former USSR
40,000 to 5,000,000
Natural radionuclides in soil of above areas
177,000 to 6,500,000

Source: Table 2 in 1997 statement by U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) member Zbigniew Jaworowski

From Table 11, radon is apparently the dominant source of background radiation. As pointed out earlier, it has not always been considered to be such, as residential radon seems not to have existed until December 1984, when a nuclear worker set off radiation alarms on his way into the Pennsylvania Limerick power plant. A subsequent investigation showed that the residential radon level in the Reading Prong area of Pennsylvania and New Jersey exceeded the level found in many mines. Always quick with a horror story, the EPA "found" this new "danger" to millions of citizens and gleefully reported that as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States are caused by residential radon. Perhaps someone at the EPA should have been reading a certain $36 per year newsletter.

Petr Beckmann was well aware of this noble gas situation, as evidenced by 106 different mentions of radon in his newsletter Access to Energy from September 1979 through June 1992. [Now edited by Dr. Arthur Robinson, President and Research Professor, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, Box 1250, Cave Junction, OR 97523. Back issues, twenty-one-year CD-ROM, and index available.]

Professor Beckmann was wise enough not to condemn the radon levels out of hand, but he took the bureaucrats to task for their double standard: One hand of government was tightening industrial radioactive emission standards to ridiculously low levels, while the other hand was encouraging/demanding that homeowners modify their homes to the point where radon doses to the average citizen were hundreds - if not thousands - of times greater than the levels dictated to nuclear workers. Here is an example from the November 1983 edition of his newsletter - prior to the EPA's "discovery" of residential radon:

"Although radon exposures of the public are regularly hundreds and even thousands of times higher than from nuclear power operations, that alone may not be cause for alarm. Our purpose here is not to scare readers with the dangers of radon, but to point out the inconsistency of the media and of the politicians bent on pleasing them."

When it came to radon, one might ask about the government's myopia for so many years. Well, one might also remember that during this period we were having one of our regularly scheduled energy crises and were being urged to seal up our residences and commercial buildings. (Anyone born before 1960 should surely remember Carter's "thermostat cops.") Without ventilation, the heavy gas, almost eight times heavier than air, seeps into basements or lower floors with additional amounts coming from unvented or poorly vented natural-gas heaters. There appears to have been a contest between which "crisis" was more important - energy or radiation. Energy shortage was first out of the gate, but it's radiation coming down the homestretch.