A national system to monitor radiation levels that was enhanced after the 9/11 attacks still remains faulty — and nearly 100 of the 135 sensors used throughout the country are no longer in use, EPA officials have confirmed.
The agency said that 99 of 135 beta-radiation sensors in its RadNet system are not able to check for levels in real time and have been turned off, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The system monitors radiation in all 50 states, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Radiation can cause cancer.
EPA officials attributed the problem to electromagnetic interference from cellular telephone towers — and efforts to resolve the problem have failed, the Journal reports. They discovered the beta-detection difficulty in 2006 after installing the real-time monitors.
"If real-time beta measurements were unnecessary, why did the government spend money installing the capability in the first place?" Daniel Hirsch, who lectures on nuclear policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, asked the Journal.
Hirsch has long criticized federal radiation-protection efforts and he has studied the RadNet system.
He told the Journal that the EPA's explanation "seems like an after-the-fact rationalization when they discovered the monitors didn’t work."
The real-time monitors are needed to help officials determine how large an area might need protective measures in a nuclear emergency.
Knowing as much as possible about whether beta or gamma radiation emitters are present, and in which amounts, can be crucial in decision-making, the Journal reports.
A non-working monitor could leave officials unaware of potentially dangerous levels of nuclear contamination, nuclear experts told the Journal.
However, the EPA can compensate for the lack of real-time beta data by relying on each RadNet station’s gamma-radiation monitor, according to the report.
Those monitors have not been affected by the cellphone towers and other interference.
Almost all radionuclides that emit beta particles also emit gamma radiation, EPA officials told the Journal.
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