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INL Site

Air Sampling

The primary pathway by which radionuclides can move off the INL Site is through the air and for this reason the air pathway is the primary focus of monitoring on and around the INL Site. Samples for particulates and iodine-131 (131I) gas in air were collected weekly for the duration of the quarter at 16 locations using low-volume air samplers. Moisture in the atmosphere was sampled at four locations around the INL Site and analyzed for tritium. Air sampling activities and results for the fourth quarter of 2018 are discussed below.  A summary of approximate minimum detectable concentrations (MDCs) for radiological analyses and DOE Derived Concentration Standard (DCS) (DOE 2011b) values is provided in Appendix B.

Low-Volume Air Sampling

Radioactivity associated with airborne particulates was monitored continuously by 18 low-volume air samplers (two of which are used as replicate samplers) at 16 locations during the first quarter of 2019 (Figure 2). Three of these samplers are located on the INL Site, seven are situated off the INL Site near the boundary, and eight have been placed at locations distant to the INL Site.  Samplers are divided into INL Site, Boundary, and Distant groups to determine if there is a gradient of radionuclide concentrations, increasing towards the INL Site. Each replicate sampler is relocated every other year to a new location. At the start of 2018, one replicate sampler was moved to Blue Dome (a Boundary location) and one was moved to Atomic City (also a Boundary location). An average of 20,407 ft3 (578 m3) of air was sampled at each location, each week, at an average flow rate of 2.02 ft3/min (0.06 m3/min). Particulates in air were collected on membrane particulate filters (1.2 µm pore size). Gases passing through the filter were collected with an activated charcoal cartridge.

Filters and charcoal cartridges were changed weekly at each station during the quarter. Each particulate filter was analyzed for gross alpha and gross beta radioactivity using thin-window gas flow proportional counting systems after waiting about four days for naturally-occurring daughter products of radon and thorium to decay. 

The weekly particulate filters collected during the quarter for each location were composited and analyzed for gamma-emitting radionuclides. Selected composites were also analyzed by location for 90Sr, 238Pu, 239/240Pu, and 241Am as determined by a rotating quarterly schedule.

Charcoal cartridges were analyzed for gamma-emitting radionuclides, specifically for iodine-131 (131I). Iodine-131 is of particular interest because it is produced in relatively large quantities by nuclear fission, is readily accumulated in human and animal thyroids, and has a half-life of eight days. This means that any elevated level of 131I in the environment could be from a recent release of fission products.

Gross alpha results are reported in Table C-1 and shown in Figures 3 through 6. Gross alpha concentrations measured in individual samples ranged from a low of 1.0 ± 1.8 × 10-16 μCi/ml collected at Blue Dome on January 30, 2019, to a high of 2.7 × 10-15 ± 2.3 × 10-16 μCi/ml collected at the Idaho Falls on March 27, 2019. All results were less than the Derived Concentration Guide (DCG) of 3.4 × 10-14 μCi/ml for 239Pu (see Table B-1 of Appendix B). In addition, the results were consistent with historical data, as represented by the 99%/95% upper tolerance limit (UTL) for gross alpha activity. The UTL was determined using ten years of historical data (measured from 2009 through 2018) and the ProUCL statistical software (https://www.epa.gov/land-research/proucl-software).The 99%/95% UTL is a value such that 99% of the population (all possible air measurements) is less than the UTL with 95% confidence. With a 99%/95% UTL it is expected that approximately 1% of the measurements will exceed the UTL if the concentration of gross alpha is within the normal range. This means that if a concentration exceeds the UTL it does not necessarily indicate that the result is outside of the normal range. Rather, it indicates that the measurement should be closely examined to determine if it is unusually high. None of the gross alpha measurements during the first quarter exceeded the UTL.


Gross alpha data have been tested for distribution (normally or lognormally distributed) and generally show no consistent discernible distribution. Because there is no discernible distribution of the data, a parametric test of significance cannot be used. The nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance by ranks test of multiple independent groups was used to determine statistical differences between INL Site, Boundary, and Distant locations. The test assesses the hypothesis that the different samples in the comparison were drawn from the same distribution or from distributions with the same median. In the computation of the Kruskal-Wallis test, each of the N observations is replaced by a rank. That is, all the results from all the locations are combined and ranked in a single series with the smallest result replaced by rank 1 and the largest result replaced by rank N (i.e., the total number of results). The sum of the ranks in each location group (i.e., INL Site, Boundary, and Distant) is found and then averaged for each group. If the samples are from the same populations, the average ranks should be about the same, whereas if the samples are from populations with different medians, the average ranks should differ. Statistically significant difference exists between data groups if the p-value (or probability value) is less than 0.05. Values greater than 0.05 translate into a 95 percent confidence that the medians are statistically the same. The p value for each comparison is shown in Table D-1. There was no statistically significant difference among groups for the quarter or for any specific month in the quarter.

To determine if there were any differences between stations and where the differences occur, the Kruskal-Wallace analysis of variance by ranks test was used again. Results measured at Idaho Falls differed statistically from those measured at Blue Dome, Craters of the Moon, and Dubois during the first quarter (Table D-2), but not during any specific month. The highest mean rank was calculated for Idaho Falls and the lowest mean ranks were calculated for Blue Dome, Craters of the Moon, and Dubois. These differences may be visually observed in Figure D-1, where the Idaho Falls median and upper box values are the highest and those measured at Blue Dome, Craters of the Moon, and Dubois are the lowest. The differences between locations may be due to variations in local meteorology, geology, or other natural factors. The Idaho Falls station is also located in in a disturbed, populated area whereas Blue Dome, Craters of the Moon, and Dubois stations are in more remote, undisturbed areas.

Gross beta results are presented in Table C-1 and displayed in Figures 7 through 10. The data are tested quarterly and generally are found to be neither normally nor log-normally distributed. Box and whiskers plots were used to present the non-parametric data. Outliers and extreme values were retained in subsequent statistical analyses because they are within the range of measurements made in the past ten years, and because these values could not be attributed to mistakes in collection, analysis, or reporting procedures.

There were no statistically significant differences in the gross beta data between groups for the quarter or for any month, using the Kruskal-Wallace analysis of variance by ranks test (Table D-1). To determine if there were any differences between stations and where the differences occur, multiple comparisons were also made using the Kruskal-Wallace analysis of variance by ranks test between gross beta concentrations measured at all locations. No differences were determined (Table D-3).


Iodine-131 was not detected in any of the 26 sets of charcoal cartridges measured during the first quarter. Weekly 131I results for each location are listed in Table C-2 of Appendix C. 

No 137Cs or other human-made gamma-emitting radionuclides were found in quarterly air composites. No 90Sr, 238Pu, 239/240Pu, or 241Am were detected either.


Atmospheric Moisture Sampling

Atmospheric moisture is collected by pulling air through a column of absorbent material (molecular sieve material) to absorb water vapor. The water is then extracted from the absorbent material by heat distillation. The resulting water samples are then analyzed for tritium using liquid scintillation.

Results were available for eight atmospheric moisture samples collected at the INL Site, Boundary, and Distant locations during the first quarter of 2019. Three of the concentrations exceeded the 3s uncertainty level for tritium, with a maximum reported value of 3.12 x 10-13 µCi/mlair at Howe. Results are similar to those reported during the past ten years (2009-2018) and none exceed the 99%/95% UTL of 7.0. All samples were significantly below the DOE DCS for tritium in air of 1.4 x 10-8 µCi/mlair. Results are shown in Table C-4, Appendix C.

Radiation in Our World

Radiation has always been a part of the natural environment in the form of cosmic radiation, cosmogenic radionuclides [carbon-14 (14C), Beryllium-7 (7Be), and tritium (3H)], and naturally occurring radionuclides, such as potassium-40 (40K), and the thorium, uranium, and actinium series radionuclides which have very long half lives. Additionally, human-made radionuclides were distributed throughout the world beginning in the early 1940s. Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons from 1945 through 1980 and nuclear power plant accidents, such as the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union during 1986, have resulted in fallout of detectable radionuclides around the world. This natural and manmade global fallout radioactivity is referred to as background radiation. MORE

Radiation Exposure and Dose

The primary concern regarding radioactivity is the amount of energy deposited by particles or gamma radiation to the surrounding environment. It is possible that the energy from radiation may damage living tissue. When radiation interacts with the atoms of a given substance, it can alter the number of electrons associated with those atoms (usually removing orbital electrons). This is called ionization. MORE