Ashland inventor monitoring radiation levels

Radiation levels haven't spiked in Ashland so far this week because of the crisis in Japan, said Kent Noonan, an inventor who is monitoring radiation levels here.

Noonan, who helped design radiation monitors that are made in Ashland and sold worldwide, said it's unlikely the release of radioactive material from a nuclear power plant in Japan will result in dangerous radiation levels here. "It would have to get up to pretty high levels and stay for a while for me to be worried, and it's unlikely to do that," he said.

Using a radiation monitor and wind detector hooked up to a computer outside his Ashland home, Noonan is watching the situation live and will issue an alert if he sees a spike in radiation levels, he said.

"If I see a spike, I should be able to tell where it came from and which direction it's headed," he said.

Some scientists have said they expect small amounts of radioactive material from Japan to reach the West Coast this week, but that radiation levels should remain safe.

Explosions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station continue to release radioactive material, after a massive earthquake damaged the plant's backup cooling system on March 11.

Since then, hundreds of people worldwide have placed orders for radiation monitors manufactured by International Medcom, said Noonan, the company's research designer.

The company normally sells between 80 and 200 detectors per month, but on Tuesday, it received 240 orders, said Peter Hoyt, who designed some of the devices and helps build them in Ashland. "We're ramping up production," he said Thursday. "I was here late yesterday, and I'll be here late again today."

The devices, which measure radiation levels through a sensor called a Geiger, cost $325 or $450, depending on the model.

"If you want to know what's going on, you have to take the word of government agencies or you have to have your own Geiger calculator," Noonan said. "We provide the tools to people who question authority."

So far, radiation levels have remained at about .01 milliroentgen per hour, or about 25 to 35 counts per minute, in Ashland over the past week, Noonan said. They would have to increase at least 100 times, to 1 milliroentgen per hour, and stay at that level for Noonan to become concerned, he said.

"What I would worry about is if it goes up and stays up, because that would mean the radiation fell here and stayed here," he said.

The company's radiation monitors are very sensitive and can detect three types of radiation, those from alpha, beta and gamma rays, Noonan said. Many homeowners and government groups use International Medcom monitors to detect radiation, he said. The company's monitors also are used to detect radiation surrounding Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and to detect smuggled uranium at the Kazakhstan and Belarus borders.

People on the West Coast who are concerned about potential radiation from Japan should not take Potassium Iodide, a radiation antidote, as a precaution, because it can be harmful if it's not necessary, Noonan said. Instead, they should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as kelp, which is a natural source of iodine, Hoyt said. After radiation exposure, miso soup, yogurt and pectin can be helpful in flushing out toxins, he said.

"Eat lots of these things and get loaded up with vitamins and minerals, and then you won't absorb the radiation," Noonan said.

Noonan, who also owns Luminous Technology, an Ashland company that manufactures light-therapy devices, has been studying radiation and ways to monitor it for more than 30 years, he said.

He's streaming the data from his monitor live on the Internet at (click on "Real Time Data," then "Ashland, Oregon"), where you also can view data from Hawaii, California and Alaska.

Although Noonan said he's slightly concerned about the potential for radiation to reach Ashland, the chances of that are slim and people shouldn't panic.

"People often see the worst-case scenario and worry about that, but we have enough information to know that we don't need to worry about that now," he said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or

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