Monday, February 6, 2012

The Radiation Network

     I found something recently that might be of some help and interest to some of you.   The Radiation Network is an organization with a website which provides real time information on radiation levels across the United States, and limited information in other places.   This also provides opportunities for individuals to obtain a geiger counter (of specific and directed designs), the correct software, and via computer, interface with the system in an automated fashion.


   Larger and more detailed maps, including Europe and South America, are found on the Radiation Network website.

        They also provide another link to a company which provides geiger counter and related information and supplies.

The information contained between the two rows of double broken lines is the word product of and is included here for educational purposes.  They might also make a couple of sales, as a result of our profiling here.

I also thought this might be interesting information, also directly from 

The Geiger counters we feature detect some or all of the four major types of ionizing radiation, namely Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and X-rays.  Both Gamma and X-rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, specifically at its high frequency, short wavelength end.   That  same spectrum also includes the more familiar ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared rays, microwaves, and radio waves, listed in order of decreasing frequency and increasing wavelength from Gamma and X-rays.
As the four major types of ionizing radiation go, Gamma and X-rays are very powerful and potentially very dangerous.  They can pass through virtually anything, and are effectively shielded or absorbed only by materials of high atomic weight such as lead.  Because of their penetrating ability, X-rays are used to see inside the human body, destroy cancer cells in radiation therapy, or analyze the internal structure of rocks and minerals, for instance.
Gamma rays are produced naturally by the sun and other bodies in outer space, their transmission to earth being known as "cosmic radiation".  Certain minerals that make up part of the earth containing the radioactive elements Uranium and/or Thorium also emit Gamma rays.  This cosmic radiation, along with these radioactive earth minerals, combine to produce the "background count" of a Geiger counter.  That is, even when a Geiger counter is removed from a specific radioactive object, the meter will still register a background level or count of radioactivity.  This might typically be in the range of 20 counts per minute, but will vary depending upon where it is on the earth.  The background count should always be factored in or "subtracted" from the overall reading derived from a specific radioactive source.  X-rays, being very similar to Gamma rays, are produced from man-made sources such as X-ray tubes, arcs, and lamps.
While not part of the electromagnetic spectrum, Alpha and Beta particles are the two other types of ionizing radiation detectable by Geiger counters.  Alpha radiation consists of positively charged particles emitted from the nucleus of an atom in the process of decay.  These particles are also very dense which, with their strong positive charge, precludes them from penetrating more than an inch of air or a sheet of paper.  Because of this, Alpha particles are not a serious health hazard, except when they are emitted from within the body as a result of ingestion, for instance, when their high energy poses an extreme hazard to sensitive living tissue.  Radioactivity of this nature is difficult to detect using a standard Geiger counter, but since most Alpha-emitting substances also produce Gamma rays, this can allow for detection in some cases.
Beta radiation consists of negatively charged particles emitted from an atom in the process of decay.  These particles are relatively light and can penetrate somewhat better than an Alpha particle, though still only through  a few millimeters of aluminum.

What household items can emit radiation?

bulletSmoke Detectors - Contain an Alpha and Beta ray producing radioactive isotope of the element Americium that senses smoke.  This is sealed, though, and may not give you any reading.
bulletLantern Mantels - Some of the mantels in camping lanterns, especially those from earlier years, are made of the radioactive element Thorium.  Be careful not to inhale the mantle ash! 
bulletWatches - Some old watches and clocks, even gyroscopes, have dials painted in radium to make them glow in the dark.  Radium emits Alpha and Gamma rays.  More recently, Tritium, a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen, has been used to paint the dials, but it is too weak to penetrate the watch lens.
bulletCamera Lenses - It has been reported that certain old Leica camera lenses colored yellow owe their hue to the presence of the radioactive element, Thorium.
bulletJewelry - Certain gems are irradiated by the radioactive element Radium, X-rays, or other particles to produce a color change. This can make the gem itself radioactive which can last for years in some cases. Also, cloisonné, an enameled variety of jewelry, is glazed with Uranium oxide.
bulletRocks and Minerals - Minerals such as uraninite and its pitchblende variety, also carnotite and thorianite, contain the radioactive elements Uranium and/or Thorium.
bulletPottery - Some older pottery such as the Fiesta Ware brand often found in antique stores is glazed with Uranium oxide.  When broken, the dust can emit Alpha particles of radiation.
bulletFurniture - More recently, certain metal objects in the home are reported to be partly made of spent radioactive material.


 A word from Jane:

In preparedness, there are many things I would like everyone to do, long before purchasing a geiger counter. I think there is value in having a really strong first aid kit, a car kit if you have a car, an evacuation kit for your family,  and good strong supplies of food and water at home for emergencies.  I think there is value in securing items in your home to limit injury and damage when they fall.  I think there is value in doing disaster planning specific for your area.  I think a supply of Potassium Iodate for every family member for temporary thyroid blocking purposes also has value.   See our post:

  Once all of these things are done, then I think there is value in reading about radiation contamination and learning about geiger counters.  Since Fukushima Daiichi experienced a meltdown, there has been a renewed interest in the potential need to monitor the radiation levels in our food and water, in most of the world.  The process of monitoring radiation in your own environment, and the tricky prospect of monitoring the radiation levels of your own food and water is something you should learn quite a bit about before spending money on a geiger counter which could be the wrong type for you, and for your family.  Rational nuclear preparedness demands that you first do your research prior to expending additional energy or funds on measurement devices, until you better know your family's needs.  In future, we will discuss the hazards of radon and how this natural phenomenon can create higher than desirable radon levels in your home.