Radiation spike was false alarm

Monitors record spike in South Bend radiation levels

Posted on June 8, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

SOUTH BEND — A reported spike in radiation levels in South Bend Wednesday evening turned out to be a false alert but still caused government agencies and the Cook Nuclear Power Plant to check their systems.

According to Radiationnetwork.com, a citizens’ monitoring group recorded a very high reading of radiation for unknown reasons in South Bend on June 6. The organization noted at the time that the results did not appear to be corroborated by nearby stations and then reported later that the elevated reading was a false alert caused by an equipment malfunction.

News of the spike was carried across the Internet and messages that landed into email inboxes.

American Electric Power, parent company of Indiana Michigan Power which operates the Cook Nuclear Power Plant in Bridgman, Mich., picked up the thread and notified I&M.

“Absolutely nothing happened at Cook” said spokesman Bill Schalk. “We’ve got a wide variety of different radiation and environmental monitors on our site and off our site. Had there been a release of radiation, we would have been the first to know.”

Cook double-checked its monitors and found no spikes, according to Schalk. It also contacted the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC checked in with the nuclear power plants in the region and found no abnormalities, said Prema Chandrathil, spokeswoman for the agency.

Likewise, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security found no high readings in any of its monitors.

“The reality is there was no radiation,” said IDHS spokesman John Erickson. “It was an equipment malfunction. There wasn’t any danger to the public.”

A flurry of emails notified Kevin Kamp at Beyond Nuclear, a watchdog group that opposes nuclear power, of the false alert incident. In South Bend, the citizens’ group reported a spike radiation to about 7,000 counts per minute which compares to a typical reading of 20 to 30 counts per minute.

Kamp said upon reading the message, his first thought was that something had happened at either the Cook plant or the Palisades Power Plant in Covert, Mich. However, such a spike could have been caused by a release from an industrial site or lab.

He is not so quick to dismiss the alert and hopes to have time to investigate the situation more and understand what happened. Kamp recalled several times when the government initially denied releases of radiation and even pointed to his own visit to a radioactive waste facility in Illinois when his handheld monitor found a hot spot.

“We need a solid citizen monitoring network because we don’t trust the government and the utilities,” Kamp said.

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