In my last letter, I mentioned the financial benefits of storing radioactive materials to the state of New Mexico.
Without a doubt, WIPP has been very successful and has brought jobs and millions in tax revenues to the city of Carlsbad, Eddy County and the state of New Mexico. However, there is still this uneasy feeling about having nuclear materials stored in our backyard, even though ionizing radiation is all around us naturally.
Background radiation is, by definition, everywhere. It is produced by many natural and artificial sources such as the rocks beneath the ground, cosmic rays from the sun and space, and even the food and water we consume. What is important to understand is that low-dose radiation is not harmful to our biological body while high levels of radiation are very harmful. Low-level radiation is any dose less than 100 milisievert (mSv) of ionizing radiation per year.
How does this low-dose guideline relate to our normal daily activity? For example, my wife has had many CT abdomen scans at 8 mSv each. For me, I have had several Coronary CT angiograms at 16 mSv each. Neither of us have cancer nor will we get cancer from these low-dose medical imaging diagnostic procedures.
Every other year, we travel by air and are exposed to 0.33 mSv. This amount is in addition to the average natural human dose of about 2.4 mSv per year from all non-medical sources.
Bringing the topic of radiation closer to our homes was the Feb. 14, 2014 accident at WIPP. According to the WIPP website, the filter reading the next day was 0.87 Becquerel (Bq) and three days later it was 0.0047 Bq. Only two other locations onsite had detectable amounts of either Am or Pu isotopes. After 10 days, there was no nonbackground detectable radiation anywhere. Note: Bq is the radioactivity and Sv is the dose equivalent.
To put this into perspective, the amount of the radioactive isotope potassium in a 150 pound person is about 5,000 Bq, which represents 5,000 atoms undergoing radioactive decay each second. Anyone else out there taking potassium pills or eating bananas daily besides me and my wife?
See how transparent and invisible WIPP has been in our backyard, except for the quarter billion dollar budget that provides high-paying jobs and taxes/fees to Carlsbad, Eddy County and New Mexico.