A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

Buddy, Can You Spare $25,000?

November 30, 2012

EPRI, the research arm of the electric utility industry, has just published what might be a very useful report. Unfortunately, most of us will never get to see it.

The report is an evaluation of consumer-grade RF exposure meters —the type of instrument you might use to measure radiation levels from a cell tower or a smart meter. In a short abstract, which is publicly available, EPRI states, "Consumers need to recognize that each [RF exposure] meter’s performance can vary dramatically at different frequencies, distances, and orientation. Such variations can be significant and may limit interpretation of measurement results."

Those who are unaware of such factors have often gotten themselves all mixed up with spurious readings. That's why this report would be a handy tutorial for the uninitiated. The problem is that only member utilities can access the report without paying the list price of $25,000. That's not a joke. We called an EPRI customer assistance operator and asked for a discount. No dice. We also wrote to Gabor Mezei, EPRI's manager on the project. So far, no word back.

EPRI is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It's worth recalling how it came to be. In November 1965, a series of errors blacked out some 30 million people in the Northeastern states. The electric utility industry was in the doghouse for not doing enough R&D to prevent such accidents. The U.S. Senate proposed setting up a new federal agency to do research paid for with a tax on electricity use. The utilities moved quickly to keep control and EPRI was born.

In a paper published in Science magazine on the occasion of EPRI's 10th anniversary, Chauncey Starr, its founding president, recalled that back in 1973 there were "imputations from many quarters that EPRI was a sham and that the utility industry was not serious about its technical responsibilities." Up until about 15 years ago, EPRI did make an effort to keep people informed about its work. Technical reports were distributed to those who needed them: We have a shelf full of EPRI publications to prove it. Today, EPRI often does not even send a copy of its final reports to those who wrote them.

Last April marked Starr's 100th birthday. We doubt he would have been pleased with the way things turned out.