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Helicopter scouts Puget Sound for radiation after nuclear disaster

A low-flying chopper will be audible and visible over the next few weeks as part of a Washington State Department of Health radiation survey. - Courtesy image
A low-flying chopper will be audible and visible over the next few weeks as part of a Washington State Department of Health radiation survey.
— image credit: Courtesy image

For residents of King and Pierce counties, a low-flying chopper will be audible and visible over the next few weeks as part of a Washington State Department of Health radiation survey.

This survey is recording Puget Sound's present levels of radiation. In case of a future Fukushima-like meltdown in Washington, the survey will establish a baseline reading for the area's radiation levels.

Fukushima, Japan, experienced the brunt of a March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The disaster led to the meltdown of nuclear reactors within that city. Emergency response teams and the Japanese government had difficulty determining the danger and level of leaked radiation because there was no "baseline" radiation level for comparison.

The state DOH survey began July 11 and will continue until July 28. Here in Federal Way, the western portion of the city may be aware of the chopper, which will fly at approximately 300 feet and will travel at 70 mph. The survey is being conducted in a grid pattern, with each of the grids being approximately 600 feet apart.

From the DOH website, the specially outfitted Bell helicopter will "measure 'gamma emitters' like cesium and radioactive iodine — materials that would likely increase in a radiation emergency."

When, and exactly where, this will occur in Federal Way is unknown, according to DOH communications officer Donn Moyer.

"The western part of Federal Way is in the survey area," Moyer wrote in an email. "The daily flight plan isn't anything we have access to, so I cannot say when; however, the helicopter will fly over all parts of the survey area between now and July 28, and once an area is done, that's the end of the flights in that place."

The survey is being funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, according to the DOH. The survey has been planned since 2009.

The DOH website indicates that information will be made available after all the data is collected and compiled, and after the DOH and interested agencies make a decision on what information should be released.

Some of the information, the website reads, "may be withheld for national security reasons." If there are any harmful levels detected, the DOH indicates that the public will be made aware of it, but that they don't expect there to be any unusual levels of radiation.

Learn more

For the DOH website on the survey, visit www.doh.wa.gov and click on the link in the "Newsroom" box. A list of frequently asked questions about the area radiological survey can be found at www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/rep/aerial.htm.

 

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