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Monitoring Gamma Radiation

The Neighborhood Environmental Watch Network, known as NEWNET, is able to give early indications of increases in radiation due to radioactive particulates in the air.
What is NEWNET?

NEWNET (Neighborhood Environmental Watch Network) is a network of environmental monitoring stations, and data storage and data processing systems, with public access to the data through the Internet. This allows interested members of the public to have constant access to the stations so they can observe the results at any time.

NEWNET LogoA station manager from each community has access to researchers and support organizations that can provide technical assistance if needed. Station Managers serve as liaisons to their communities and can help citizens understand measurements. The Laboratory supports NEWNET stations in Northern New Mexico.

NEWNET stations can vary in configuration. Most NEWNET stations have sensors for monitoring wind speed and direction, ambient air temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity and ionizing gamma radiation. Wind data are not checked for quality assurance and are not guaranteed.


NEWNET was started in 1993 with stations in Nevada, California, Utah, and New Mexico. It is based on concepts developed by the Department of Energy for the Community Monitoring Program at the Nevada Test Site Nuclear Testing Facility. These concepts date back to the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Reactor accident in the late 1970's.

With the advance of technology and the public's right to knowledge regarding these technologies, there are many issues of concern. Radiation is one of these issues. For example, public concerns include the dangers of nuclear radiation from the operation of nuclear power plants, the shipment and storage of nuclear waste, industrial and medical uses of radioactive isotopes, and radiation in general. Adding to the concern is the fact that members of the public have little way of knowing what levels of radiation they are being exposed to, and they traditionally have no control over their exposure.

In order to make informed decisions about balancing the risks and benefits of nuclear power, waste storage methods, and other activities that involve radioactive materials, the public needs access to data. The purpose of NEWNET is to provide the public with data on actual radiation levels and to foster an awareness of the relative risks presented by these levels of radiation.

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principle for NEWNET Data Collection

Radiation monitoring around the Department of Energy facilities is for the health and safety of the local population and environment. The data from publicly supported monitoring sources should be available to the public as accurately and as timely as possible. The NEWNET data will be checked for transmission errors and annotated, but will not be altered.

Guiding Principle for NEWNET Public Interactions

This principle is based on a position put forth by the Committee on Interagency Radiation Research and Policy Coordination (CIRRPC) in their April 1994 publication, "Balancing Radiation Benefits and Risks: The Needs of an Informed Public."

"Does the Federal government have a responsibility to enhance public understanding of issues surrounding specific technologies used by society? If the answer is 'yes,' then the purpose of any government education program should be to provide reliable, accurate, and understandable information to enable individuals and groups to make informed decisions, based on their accurate knowledge of the issues involved. It is not the purpose of such a program to persuade the public to accept or reject a specific technology."

Educational Programs

Since a primary goal of the NEWNET project is to provide information to the public, it is fitting that there are appropriate education programs. NEWNET has collaborated with several local high schools and colleges, providing them with local NEWNET stations. A teaching curriculum might include a study of radiation and detection, data acquisition and plotting, meteorology, or uses of computers.

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