Orion Fairbanks Station
- February 2010
Credit: Gary Whitton
Arctic areas of Alaska are especially vulnerable to nuclear accidents
releasing radioactivity into the atmosphere within the circumpolar
north. Atmospheric fallout and the resultant bioconcentration in
the lichen-caribou-human food chain are of great concern for those
living a subsistence lifestyle. A project, Observing Radiation In
Our North (ORION), formally known as Neighborhood Environmental
Watch Network (NEWNET), was initiated to provide an opportunity
for Alaska Native undergraduate college students to participate
in environmental monitoring, research, and communication of the
results through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society
(AISES) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
ORION is a network of stations that gather both meteorological
and radiological data. Originally, the data was transmitted via
the GOES West satellite to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in
Los Alamos, New Mexico. The data was loaded into a database that
can still be accessed by the public via the internet at http://newnet.lanl.gov.
Currently, ORION is a stand-alone system in Alaska.
Long-term meteorological and radiation observations are providing
a baseline against which any major changes in atmospheric conditions
and radioactivity can be detected. For example, the former Soviet
Union has many old and outdated nuclear facilities still in operation.
The Bilibino nuclear facility which is the closest to Alaska is
one such aging plant that could accidentally release atmospheric
radiation. ORION stations gather real time data and would detect
any increase in background radiation levels should such an accident
occur or should any other sources release radiation into the Alaskan
Historically, ORION (NEWNET) stations in Alaska were located in
Kotzebue, Nome, Point Hope, Barrow, Seward, and Fairbanks. Now,
ORION has stations in Nome, Barrow, and Fairbanks.
ORION is a collaborative effort with Battelle-Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory (PNNL), Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
(ADEC), the Environmental Protection Agency's RadNet program, and
various organizations and departments of the University of Alaska