I decided to return to radiation again this week because of the accident at the Hanford nuclear storage site in Washington state. I know that even with a nuclear war potentially looming over the conflict on the Korean peninsula, most people will absolutely refuse to prepare for a high level radiation event no matter what. So this week we’ll take a look at a low level event. This meter, MyGeiger V3, is roughly $150, and it is a worthy investment to be able to measure what I would call “medium level” radiation.
By medium level I mean that this meter, as shown here, is completely useless for two things, a nuclear war, and for detecting radioisotopes in food. I’ll explain this further below.
Where this meter shines is in situations like the Hanford tunnel collapse, or when you hear that there is some kind of expulsion from a local nuclear power plant. On the news they will tell you that there is has been an incident, and this will almost universally be followed by a statement that there is no harm to the public.
Personally, knowing the history of governments and the media when it comes to telling the public about nuclear events, I don’t trust anything. I want my own meter. To this day there are denials about every nuclear accident in history, and all of those people effected could have been saved by an inexpensive meter. Ignorance is really expensive, and it can be deadly.
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Background radiation in most of the US is somewhere around .1 to .20 uSv, or microsieverts. If you fly, take your meter with you, and you’ll measure levels of one hundred times that. Flight attendant and pilot are actually considered some of the higher radiation risk jobs. If you buy one of these meters, get familiar with the differences in background radiation. You may find that you’re already in a hot zone because of radon gas, or tritium leakage if you are near a nuke plant like Turkey Point here in Miami Beach.
There are a number of ways to measure medium level radiation. I have covered cheap PIN diode devices that connect to your phone. If you have an Iphone, there is an app in the Apple store that uses the phone camera to measure radiation. I also covered some other cool DIY kits from a guy on Ebay. And don’t discount the blue DIY kit that you see in the video. It is also now in V3 and really easy to build. It is compatible with phones and with the Radiation Logger available on the website.
As I explained in the video, there are limits to how much radiation you can measure with a Geiger-Mueller tube, because at a certain level, generally in the millirad range, every GM tube saturates. Running at generally over 400 volts, the power supply and measurement circuits for a GM tube are surprisingly not that complicated, but there is only one device that I know of that can handle both medium and high level radiation, and I talked about it in my previous article/video. There is a change that we can eventually figure this device out with an extremely high level Russian tube, the SI-3BG, but nobody has time to deal with it right now, and because it would require alligator clips to test, the system wouldn’t be very robust. Note that this is not the glass tube in the video. I do have a pile of them somewhere though.
The MyGeiger system can also be used for testing individual isotopes in food, that may have been rained on by fallout. But for that you need a scintillator probe, not a GM tube. RH Electronics does custom make those, so if you feel like you want to go down that road, by all means ask. They also have a remote probe driver board and a bunch of other neat electronics gadgets, all cheap and either built or easy to build. They even have a QRP Ham radio project.
There are of course medium level radiation meters out there that have a sturdy case already, and that you don’t have to piece together. The problem is that they are expensive. If you follow this series, you’ve seen many of my Geiger machines, and they were all over $300. If you want a relatively inexpensive machine that will read dramatic increases in background radiation, the high level CDV meters are useless. It isn’t that a rise in background radiation could even be that dangerous. It’s the not knowing. My perspective is always going to be, isn’t it better to know?