Idaho State JournalIdaho State Journal

Radiation levels rise after fires

By Anne Minard
Journal Staff Writer

Friday, August 18, 2000

POCATELLO - The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory is reporting elevated radiation releases following a series of wildfires that burned there last month.

"What we're finding is that there are slightly elevated gross alpha levels. You would expect that after a fire," explained Brad Bugger, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy in Idaho Falls. "The natural radiation in the soil tends to attach itself to dust articles and become airborne."

Alpha radiation describes the release of positively charged particles from radioactive elements including radon and uranium. Alpha radiation can be absorbed by living tissues. Beta radiation, by contrast, comprises negatively charged particles with the ability to penetrate tissues. Gamma radiation, the third type, involves the emission of a single positively-charged particle and is also known to be able to penetrate.

Site officials are waiting for the results of more specific tests before they determine whether the elevated alpha levels are a result of naturally occurring radiation, resuspended fallout from worldwide nuclear tests and disasters, or radioactive particles that could be attributed to operations at the INEEL.

The fires did not travel through any areas at the site closed for contamination, Bugger said. They did travel through an area that had been cleaned and approved for industrial use by state and federal agencies, he said.

"That site was mostly cesium and strontium," he said, adding those are gamma and not alpha emitters.