Idaho State Journal
INEEL radiation levels increased after
wildfire sweeps across site
By Anne Minard
Journal Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2000
POCATELLO - New data shows levels of alpha, beta and gamma radiation
at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory
were higher after wildfires swept across the site in late July
and early August.
The Environmental Science and Research Foundation released its
findings last week that showed gross alpha contamination was
up after the fires. Department of Energy Spokesperson Brad Bugger
has said those increases were expected and normal, as the result
of particles attached to dust stirred up in the fires.
Cesium-137 was detected in samples collected between Aug. 11-13
at the oversight program's Big Lost River Rest Area monitoring
site. Samples collected later in the same week showed no cesium-137.
"I'm not surprised by our findings," said Doug Walker,
a scientist with the oversight program. "However, none of
the post-fire concentrations present any appreciable increase
in health risk to the public."
Steve Hopkins of the Snake River Alliance, an Idaho-based nuclear
watchdog group, hesitated to agree with the program's assessment.
"I would say any increase in gamma radiation does definitely
present an increased concern," he said. "There are
experts who contend that any increase in radiation leads to an
increase in terms of health effects."
Brad Bugger said the fires didn't burn through any areas slated
for cleanup. But they did burn in an area contaminated with low
levels of cesium and strontium, both gamma emitters. The area
had been approved for industrial use by state and federal agencies,
Bugger said. It had been released from any cleanup processes
because the contamination was deemed low enough to warrant "no
action" in an assessment.
On Wednesday Bugger said it is still unclear whether the cesium-137
came from INEEL on-site operations or off-site sources, which
could include fallout from worldwide nuclear releases, he said.
"That cesium-137 spot was just northwest of the INTEC,"
he said, referring to an area in the southwest part of the site.
"The monitoring site was not downwind from the contamination
area under normal conditions. The typical wind pattern there
is from the southwest to the northeast," Bugger said. The
cesium-137 was detected southwest of the contaminated area, or
"I would say its more likely it would be on-site,"
Site officials are still waiting for the results of specific
tests to indicate indicate whether the elevated alpha levels
their tests found 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.
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.