Safecast devices used for first readings inside a US nuclear plant

Gene Stone (left) and Darin R. McClure (right) from ROSE inside the San Onofre site with their Safecast bGeigie Nanos.

Safecast-collaborators from the NGO Residents Organized for a Safe Environment (ROSE) recently used a bGeigie Nano when visiting the site of the San Onofre nuclear plant in California (you can see the measurements here). It was the first time that Safecast’s devices have been used to make measurements inside a US nuclear facility.  

The group, which also hosts a Solarcast, has been volunteering with Safecast for a while now, and their strong, local efforts combined with Safecast’s reputation and standing could lead to several Solarcasts finding a more permanent home on the grounds of the San Onofre Plant.

“Our collaboration has the potential to lead to the creation of the first monitoring system of its kind in the US, which would be really exciting, and show the value of local groups having open, accessible tools to work with, rather than having to rely solely on equipment and measurements from companies and government organisations,” Sean Bonner of Safecast says.

Potential real-time monitoring system

ROSE is looking to use Solarcast Nano-devices as a permanent first-alert system for the San Onofre, nuclear waste dump. The plan is to place the Solarcast Nanos close to the heat vents of the 72 Holtex and 51 Areva canisters at San Onofre.

This would enable better monitoring of the canisters and a quicker response in case of leakage.

Picture taken by ROSE during their visit to the San Onofre site.

“If the CPM numbers measured at the vent stay stable over a given period, that would indicate that there were no leaks. However, if this same canister’s numbers moved up significantly for an extended period, that would be an indication that a leak had begun. Some of those cans – which is probably a more correct way of describing them – are already 15 years old,” Gene Stone of ROSE, says.

He also notes that while South Californian Edison (SCE), which oversees the nuclear waste site, has monitors on the site, they are located on the fence surrounding the area, meaning that they are more than 50 feet away.

“We believe that is too far away to pick up subtle shifts, in part because they are monitoring in Rems instead of CPMs,” Darin McClure of ROSE says.

SCE monitoring is closed, single source, and requires people to trust that a company is checking itself, whereas Safecast is independent and open and doesn’t have a financial stake. Having both Safecast and SCE data available to the public would lead to higher degrees of trust and assurance of the situation.

ROSE is currently in negotiations with SCE regarding putting Solarcast Nanos near the heat vents.

Quicker warnings for the public

Real-time data from the Safecast Solarcast Nanos located at the heat vents would be crucial in creating a warning system, which could dramatically lower the response time to any leaks and make it possible for locals to receive real-time alerts in case of any leaks.

“I think there are something like 70 million people living within a 100-mile radius of the site. I think that only a small percentage of people in the area are aware of what could happen if there was a serious leak. Today, you can’t sell a house in California without carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors. An early warning system would provide the same kind of information but for radiation,” Darin McClure says.

He notes that the system would also enable SCE to respond quickly to any leaks.

“Currently, SCE carries out measurements, but it happens infrequently,” Gene Stone says.

Safecast has been working with ROSE in relation to the system and believes that, while funding and details still need to be worked out, the Solarcast Nanos would be a good fit.

“The Solarcast, the new Solarcast Nano and the earlier Pointcast system were designed specifically for that kind of always-on-always-connected purpose. So, a real-time first alert system is a good idea. We’d love to work with ROSE and South Californian Edison to put together an appropriate system though, and honestly, the new Solarcast Nano’s might be perfect for this,” Sean Bonner says.

About the Author

Marc Prosser

Marc is British, Danish, Geekish, Bookish, Sportish, and loves anything in the world that goes 'booiingg'. He is a freelance journalist and researcher living in Tokyo and writes about all things science and tech. He started volunteering for Safecast after writing articles about their work following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami - and because he believes that data and technology should be open and readily available.