National Air and Radiation Environmental Lab - NAREL - in Action
Tuesday, March 15th was the day for NOWCC’s staff to visit with SEE Enrollees and Monitors at the EPA National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory (NAREL) in Montgomery, Alabama. It was also a day clouded by problems with nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan due to a recent tsunami in that region. When our group (including Jack Everett, Laura Melton and Linda Farina) arrived at the lab that morning, little did we know that we would have an opportunity to witness the lab working under some extraordinary circumstances generated by radiation leaks in Fukushima and be privileged to learn some of the ways this agency detects and protects us from radiation.
Greeted by SEE Enrollee, Gayle Ochs, we were ushered to the auditorium to prepare for our meeting which would not begin for another hour. After we settled in, Cynthia White, NAREL, Sample Prep Manager, offered to give us a tour of the Sample Prep Lab and an opportunity to visit with NOWCC Enrollees, Bobbie Fiala and Clyde Sirman, at work there. Ms. Fiala showed us all the tasks involved in receiving and preparing the different types of samples, including air filters, samples of dirt, water, milk and other substances submitted for radiation testing. (Cindy told us that of everything they tested, probably fish and oysters were the worst because they smelled bad.) Bobbie’s job is very detailed and exacting, requiring multiple checks and rechecks. She is shown in the above picture with a few of the samples that are prepared for testing in the lab.
As we headed back to the auditorium, Ron Fraass, NAREL Director, came out to greet us. Ron praised the work of the SEE Enrollees in the lab and filled us in on the preparations being made to assist the Department of Energy with radiation monitoring in response to the reactor problems in Japan. It was a busy day for NAREL. In addition to fielding lots of calls and questions, NAREL scientists were being dispatched to Hawaii and Guam, along with the necessary monitoring equipment to establish EPA radiation surveillance stations.
Larry Sims, a SEE Enrollee who inventories air monitoring equipment, explained his procedures for shipping, tracking and receiving equipment. After watching an explanation of the computer documentation required, he took us out to the storage area where the large pieces of equipment assigned to Hawaii and Guam had been loaded on pallets, secured with what appeared to be rolls of plastic sheeting, were awaiting shipment. NAREL was ready to roll.
To complete our tour of NAREL, Erik Nielsen, NAREL Project Manager, showed us the Radiation Emergency Response Laboratory which is a mobile lab housed in a shiny, white 18-wheeler and is outfitted with a myriad of sophisticated electronics. Various other vehicles are also housed in the same facility and are used to provide a receiving station and transport employees and other necessary equipment to the monitoring site. The mobile lab has been deployed as a precautionary measure when plutonium was used in space launches. It is a resource that would be used in a radiation emergency to determine radiation levels only when scientists could enter the affected area safely.
Before we left, Barry Cravey, NAREL Project Manager Officer, gave us a great welcome and had high praise for SEE Enrollees. Mr. Cravey has been a great help to NOWCC by coordinating the paperwork for new enrollees, helping us with recruitment and any challenges that arise with the SEE Program.
Our visit to NAREL exceeded all expectations. We thoroughly enjoyed our visits with Enrollees and Monitors and gained new insights into their work and the science of radiation detection. As we left, it was with a heightened sense of the security because of the radiation protection NAREL provides for our nation.