Vermont Yankee has been in the headlines a lot lately because of the antinuclear protesters that have been demonstrating and getting arrested at the plant site. Certain of them told reporters that the events at Fukushima had strengthened their opinions opposing nuclear energy, and that they were afraid that something similar might happen in their own community.
An entire year has gone by since the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan triggered the accident at Fukushima, resulting in a release of radioactive material into the environment. This also hit the global nuclear industry very hard.
As an aspiring scientist, what impressed me most was how quickly the scientific community joined together all over the world to help the Japanese assess and deal with the situation. This kind of service is exactly what I believe should motivate scientists. We have an obligation to put our technical know-how to work serving and bettering the community.
With these thoughts in mind I decided to write about my work with a group of scientists who took it upon themselves to fulfill this obligation. I was fortunate to participate in a research effort with the Berkeley Radiological Air and Water Monitoring Team (BRAWM). Dr. Kai Vetter in the Nuclear Engineering Department set up the BRAWM team to measure local effects of the radioactive releases from Fukushima in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This involved measuring the radioactivity present in drinking water, local produce (milk from local farms, locally grown vegetables), rain water, plants, tap water, algae, etc. Many, many samples were tested and measured within the first week of the accident. The local news channels even covered the team’s efforts.
What was most impressive to me was how BRAWM enabled local residents to voice their opinions and concerns. They set up an online forum at which anyone could post questions to the group and get technically accurate yet understandable answers.
In fact, the forum is still active, more than a year later! The BRAWM team continues sampling and measuring, even though most readings have shown negligible levels of radioactivity–that were at or below background levels.
Now they plan to set up an automatic and continuous air monitoring system on the roof of the engineering building to feed in data wirelessly that will upload online immediately.
Click on the image below to view the full size poster illustrating BRAWM’s findings: