Radioactive Rumor Mill Doesn’t Help Anyone

Last week, the NRC’s Region III Office in Chicago spent the better part of a day dispelling rumors of a nuclear emergency on the border of Indiana and Michigan after two non-governmental radiation monitoring networks allegedly showed extremely high radiation readings. Before the readings were verified as anything beyond equipment malfunction – which is exactly what they were – social media and the rumor mill kicked into gear.

A YouTube video about the “radiation spike” was posted early in the morning and spread like wildfire. In the blink of an eye media outlets were inundated with panicked calls from the public who had seen the YouTube video. Calls from the media and the public poured into the NRC, state officials and to the nearest nuclear power plants — Palisades and D.C. Cook.

We did our due diligence –we checked with the power plants, which were operating normally with no unusual radiation release, and we checked with the state officials in Indiana and Michigan. And we also reported the calls to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Eventually, the radiation network reporting the spike, organized and maintained by local citizens, informed the public that they had experienced an equipment malfunction and made a reporting mistake due to “out-of-control readings on the GeigerGraph screen.”

Fortunately, the incident was not real and the rumor mill in this instance was short lived. Though a week later we are still receiving calls from the public and media outlets who had not heard it was a false rumor. It’s important to remember that local and state agencies and the federal government are the best, most accurate source of verified, credible emergency information. As we’ve seen before, unofficial social media can get information wrong.

Prema Chandrathil
Public Affairs Officer, Region III