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An Evaluation of the Kearny Fallout Meter (KFM), a Radiation Detector Constructed From Commonly Available Household Materials

McDonald, J.T.; West, W.G.; Kearfott, K.J.

Operational Topic

A radiation detector constructed of common household materials was developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) by Cresson H. Kearny and has been referred to as the Kearny Fallout Meter (KFM). Developed during the height of the Cold War, the KFM was intended to place a radiation meter capable of measuring fallout from nuclear weapons in the hands of every U.S. citizen. Instructions for the construction of the meter, as well as information about radiation health effects, were developed in the form of multi-page newspaper insert. Subsequently, the sensitivity of the meter was refined by a high school teacher, Dr. Paul S. Lombardi, for use in demonstrations about radiation. The meter is currently being marketed for survivalists in light of potential radiation terrorist concerns. The KFM and Lombardi’s variation of it are constructed and evaluated for this work. Calibrated tests of the response and variations in response are reported. A critique of the multi-page manual is made. In addition, the suitability of using such a detector, in terms of actual ease of construction and practical sensitivity, is discussed for its use in demonstrations and introductory classes on nuclear topics.

Two types of homemade radiation detectors are evaluated for possible use in a fallout situation.

* The Radiological Health Engineering Laboratory, Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, The University of Michigan, 2355 Bonisteel Boulevard, 1906 Cooley Building, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2104.

© 2004 by the Health Physics Society