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Science Notebook

Science Notebook

Responding to radiation emergencies.  The Science Notebook showcases the work of EPA scientists around the nation.  This month, learn how members of EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team prepare for and react to radiological emergencies.

Meet the Radiological Emergency Response Team

During a radiation emergency, members of EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team support federal, state, tribal and local agencies by providing technical advice, monitoring, sampling , data assessment and cleanup assistance. These services focus on minimizing threats to public health and the environment.

From locations across the country, team members have shared their experiences and opened their doors to illustrate the specialized expertise and equipment it takes to fulfill EPA's role during a radiological emergency.

Scientist Showcase

Stop in for a casual chat to meet some of EPA's scientists and hear what they're up to, both in the office and on their own time.

Learn more about EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team.

If You Were the Scientist

Can you think like a scientist? Put yourself into a scientist's shoes by taking this quiz.


It is 2 p.m. on a Monday and you, EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team Commander, receive a call from the fire chief of a large city. The chief says that there has been a large explosion and they are detecting radiation. He has instructed the people in the immediate area to stay inside their homes and buildings. He asks you, "Where should people go within their buildings for the best protection from radiation exposure?"
What do you tell him?

The basement or underground garage

The top floor

The center of the middle floor

The ground floor by a window


Alpha, Beta, Gamma

You have been working in EPA's mobile lab at the site of a dirty bomb incident. After running a series of tests, the results are finally in on a soil sample you have been analyzing. Your results show that the radioactive material in your soil sample is emitting two types of radiation. One type can't pass through your skin. The other type can only be blocked by lead or concrete shielding. What radioactive material might be in the sample?

Strontium-90 (emits beta particles)

Cesium-137 (emits beta particles and gamma rays)

Radium-226 (emits alpha particles and gamma rays)

Plutonium-241 (emits alpha particles and beta particles)


Unit Conversion

You are an emergency responder monitoring a potential release from a nuclear power plant. You are constantly looking at field data and reports, the latest of which shows that your instruments are reading 125 millirems per hour (mrem/hr) outside of the plant. Just then you get a call from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and they want to know what your latest dose rate readings are. However, IAEA uses SI units for measuring radiation dose based on the sievert, not the rem. Use the following table to convert your millirems per hour reading to microsieverts or millisieverts per hour. Exit EPA Disclaimer 

1 mrem = 10 microsieverts (µSv)
10 mrem = 100 microsieverts (µSv)
100 mrem = 1 millisievert (mSv)
1 millisievert (mSv) = 1000 microsieverts (Sv)

125 mrem/h =

1.25 µSv/h

1.25 mSv/h

0.125 µSv/h

12500 mSv/h


About the Science Notebook

To see the world through the eyes of
a scientist, just open his or her
notebook — a place to record drawings,
data, questions and insights.
Similarly, EPA's Science Notebook
offers a window into science at
EPA, through stories, interviews,
videos, podcasts and more.

A Day in the Life of a Rad Sample

Tracking and analyzing radiation in the nation's air has more steps than you might think. Take a peek at the monitors in the field and inside the doors of EPA's radiation laboratory in Montgomery, Alabama, to see the process unfold.

Greenversations with Scientists

Science Notebook and EPA's blog Greenversations team up to present an on-going series of personal reflections by EPA scientists.

Read Greenversations Science Notebook blog posts

Get Science Notebook blog posts delivered to your feed reader | More about RSS feeds (USA.gov)

Sound Science: Radiation

What happens when your Blackberry goes off at two in the morning with an alert that there are increased radiation levels in a metropolitan city?

Listen to a discussion between EPA Science Notebook Coordinator Dr. Dale Haroski and Ron Fraass, the director of EPA's National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory in Montgomery, Alabama, as he discusses EPA's RadNet program and the 2 a.m. phone call he received last year.

(MP3, 13.3 MB, runtime 14:11)

GreenScene: Tracking Radiation During Radiological Emergencies

Tour Chernobyl

Ten years after the 1986 explosion of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, EPA staff member Gregg Dempsey was given a rare tour. View his slide show of Chernobyl Unit 4 and tour the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine.

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