Fears of radiation fallout from the nuclear power plant breakdown in Japan after the March 11 earthquake/tsunami have spurred sales for a Williamson Valley company that distributes Geiger counters.
In fact, geigercounters.com, the website of Mineralab, posted a notice March 15 that orders of the devices have outstripped demand.
“It will be weeks to months before we have Geiger Counters for sale again — sorry!” the website posted at 8:30 a.m. Friday. Geiger counters detect background radiation.
“We normally sell 1,000 Geiger counters (a year) versus in the first five days after the nuclear disaster in Japan we sold 500,” said Tim Flanegin, president of Mineralab.
Forty percent of the orders come from Americans who live on the West Coast and about 30 percent come from Japan, Flanegin said. The remainder of the orders came from Americans who live elsewhere as well as from Europe, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim.
“We sold quite a few units to a theme park (in Japan) that provides food service to the visitors,” Flanegin said. “They wanted to check the food for possible radiation contamination.”
He said the typical individual customer is concerned about radiation exposure.
The bulk of customers in the past have included geologists, fire departments, universities, medical offices and some rockhounds, Flanegin said.
Flanegin, 53, demonstrated the use of a pocket-size Geiger counter Saturday afternoon after he and his wife, Jeannie, shipped 15 packages at the UPS Store on Willow Creek Road in Prescott.
A red light went on and off rapidly on the battery-operated device, and it emitted a clicking sound. The device displayed a reading of the radiation level.
Most of the background radiation comes from outer space, Flanegin explained.
“It goes right through the walls of most structures,” he said. “We are getting bombarded as we speak.”
Individuals buying Geiger counters need to interpret readings carefully, Kenneth Mossman, professor of health physics at the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, stated via email.
“The counters do not distinguish between natural background radiation (that occurs everywhere) and fallout,” he stated. “Geiger counter readings can be easily misinterpreted unless the consumer knows what is being detected. Because fallout is so minimal, any Geiger reading is due to natural background radiation in the local area.”
Mossman also wrote Arizona residents “face no risk” from fallout from the Japanese nuclear power plant.
The Associated Press reported Monday that traces of radioactive material from the nuclear plant have been detected from coast to coast and in Iceland. However, the amounts continue to be far below levels that would cause health problems.
Flanegin sounded a note of caution as well, saying, “I am not saying that danger exists in America today” from radiation exposure.
Flanegin also reported more hits since the nuclear disaster to a website that he launched in 2004, RadiatonNetwork.com. The website provides real-time readings from people who plug in data from the Geiger counters to their computers. Numbers inside yellow circles on the U.S. map show counts per minute.
Flanegin, who previously worked in banking, real estate and finance, said he founded Mineralab in 1995 in Durango, Colo., because he wanted to start a small business. The Flanegins moved to Williamson Valley 10 years ago.
Flanegin said he does not expect demand for Geiger counters to slow down for several months.
“I think the story is going to be with us for some time,” he said.