Arizona agency tracks radiation: tests regularly for any problem - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Arizona agency tracks radiation: tests regularly for any problems

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - From licensing tanning beds, to keeping track of radioactive material, and monitoring the air outside of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant. All of this is the responsibility of the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency. It's part of their job to keep the public safe.

Physicists from the Arizona Radiation Regulator Agency are always looking for radiation.

"There are drinking water samples from local residences, as well as a local restaurant, and a school located out near the power plant," said Lawrence Turek.

The agency keeps track of radioactive material, equipment, and the people who use it. But one of it's biggest responsibilities is monitoring radiation levels outside of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, the largest nuclear energy facility in the United States.

"All of the testing is done just as a constant monitor to make sure there have been no releases from the nuclear power plant," he said.

Water, air, soil, even milk from around the power plant is regularly tested.

"We rarely see anything of significance, but that's a good thing," said Turek.

"You can get more radiation from medial x-rays, you do get more from x-rays, than you do from Palo Verde," said Aubrey Godwin.

For 22 years, Aubrey Godwin has been the director of the agency. He says Palo Verde is the state's biggest potential source of radiation if there was an accident.

"Could a terrorist bring something in that would cause equal type of problem? Possibly, they'd have to work at it though," he said.

Godwin says they participate in full-scale training exercises with Palo Verde, twice a year. He took FOX 10 through the agency's emergency response room where they have direct phone lines to the power plant.

"We've activated a couple, three times, for Palo Verde because of some little technical upsets they had. But as far as having a major event that required evacuation, we haven't had any," said Godwin.

Godwin says his agency not only prepares for a major incident at Palo Verde, but any incident involving radiation.

"We practice for having a radiation distribution device in the city," he said.

If a large number of people are exposed to radiation, the agency responds setting up portable monitors.

The agency just received two new portable monitors. They're similar to walking through a scanner at the airport, but they detect radiation. They can run 500 people through one of these in an hour.

In a real event, if radiation is detected, you're decontaminated and treated depending on what kind of radiation you test for. The agency has radiation detectors that cars can drive through as well.

"They're used for any detection incident or accident that would be like a dirty bomb weapon of mass destruction. A Super Bowl type thing is what we're thinking about using that for," said Godwin.

Godwin says radiation can be found anywhere; it's both natural and manmade. People entering the lab walk across a sticky mat to get the soil off their shoes. Godwin says radioactive material can still be found in Arizona soil from nuclear weapons testing in the 50's and from Fukushima's nuclear disaster in 2011. Despite that Godwin says there is no health concern.

"Radiation can be very helpful, look at the uses in medical, and you do get the benefit from having power at Palo Verde... most people don't understand that it takes quite a bit of exposure to create health problems in people," said Godwin.

Godwin said his biggest concern was replacing retiring employees. He says it can take up to two years to fully train someone to work in the lab.
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