Feds puzzled by gamma radiation higher than normal near wildfire
By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 07/13/2007 07:00:57 AM MDT
A puzzle has sprung from the flames of the Milford Flat Fire: What’s pumping radiation into the air?
The National Nuclear Security Administration said Thursday its radiation monitors in the area are showing gamma radiation spikes seven times higher than the normal background.
But before anyone runs to the doctor, it’s worth pointing out that even those spikes, if someone breathed them for seven hours straight, produce less than one-2,000th of the radiation dose a Utahn normally gets in a year.
“You’re talking about a very small dose,” said NNSA spokesman Darwin Morgan.
The agency, which had proposed a massive, non-nuclear explosion experiment at the
Nevada Test Site last year, monitors the air for radiation at 29 monitoring stations in Utah, California and Nevada.
The agency canceled the so-called Divine Strake test after hearing from thousands of Utahns who complained that the explosion would send radiation-tainted debris into their air and onto their landscape.
“We heard loud and clear from the people of Utah they are concerned about radiation,” said Morgan, explaining his agency’s reasons for publicizing the radiation-meter findings.
Morgan said filters from the Milford monitoring station are being analyzed at a laboratory. The agency thinks that naturally occurring radon is being released from the ground, but only
study of the material captured on the air filters will tell them for sure.
Dane Finerfrock, director of the Utah Division of Radiation Control, said the fact that radiation is released during combustion is no secret.
“There’s a radioactivity in that forest and brush,” he said, “and some of it stays in the ash and some of it goes into the atmosphere.”
Morgan said there is no data about the radiation from the Neola North Fire in eastern Utah. The agency does not have monitors in that part of the state.