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An April 19 audit by the Inspector General of the United States Environmental Protection Agency has revealed that major components of the government's radiation monitoring and reporting system, including an air sampling device in San Diego, were not functioning during last year's Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in Japan.

"On March 11, 2011, at the time of the Japan nuclear incident, 25 of the 124 installed RadNet monitors, or 20 percent, were out of service for an average of 130 days," auditors said.

San Diego's monitoring device was one of 11 said to be out of service for more than 140 days, according to the findings.

The San Diego outage began on October 26, 2010, and apparently went unnoticed for four months, until February 23, when a contractor was notified. Repairs were not completed on the device until March 20, more than a week after the Fukushima disaster began, auditors found.

The failed equipment is a key component of what the government calls its RadNet system. "RadNet, a national network of monitoring stations, provides real-time monitoring of environmental levels of radiation in the United States.

"Monitoring stations regularly collect air, precipitation, drinking water, and milk samples for analysis of radioactivity," the report noted.

"EPA’s RadNet system consists of 124 stationary monitors and 40 deployable air monitors that can be sent to take readings anywhere in the country Our audit focused on EPA’s stationary RadNet air monitoring system," the report said.

In addition to the device breakdowns, the auditors added, "6 of the 12 RadNet monitors we sampled (50 percent) had gone over 8 weeks without a filter change, and 2 had gone unchanged for over 300 days because they were broken."

"Because EPA managed RadNet with lower than required priority, parts shortages and insufficient contract oversight contributed to extensive delays in fixing broken monitors," the audit found.

"In addition, broken RadNet monitors and relaxed quality controls contributed to the filters not being changed timely. Out-of-service monitors and unchanged filters may reduce the quality and availability of critical data needed to assess radioactive threats to public health and the environment."

Following the audit, EPA officials pledged to deal with the issues it raised.

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