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Category: Data

On Fukushima Fears and Sensationalistic Reporting

There is an incredible amount of disinformation going on these days about Fukushima Daiichi.  A lot of people are frightened by it and they call me or email me, wanting to know what I think about it.

The situation at Fukushima Daiichi is tragic and difficult.  My heart goes out to the people working there, the people who have been displaced…and those who continue to live in the shadow of this disaster.  Itʻs a sad situation.  Iʻve been to Japan 8 or 9 times since the disaster, and Iʻm hoping I can find new and better ways to help the situation there.

Without downplaying the danger and difficulties, it is important to note that some people are exaggerating the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, for unknown reasons, in very dramatic ways.   I am bombarded these days with links to websites with apocalyptic messages of imminent disaster, which fortunately do not seem to be based on reality.

Itʻs not that we should not remain vigilant, but that we should not believe everything we see and hear.  Stress affects human health.

For a reality check I always look to the people at Safecast.   They do an incredible job of staying in touch with the people of Fukushima…many of them are Fukushima people.  They have mapped over 13 million data points since the disaster, and they are constantly analyzing radiation data in Fukushima Prefecture.  Incidentally, if you want to do something positive to help the situation, I strongly recommend donating to Safecast.

On the rumor that Unit 3 steam is foreboding of an imminent disaster, I found this useful analysis by the Simply Info research team, which says that the situation at Unit 3 is relatively stable at this time.

On rumors that starfish health on the West Coast is being affected by radiation from Fukushima I found these articles, which provide at least an alternate viewpoint to that scenario: Deep Sea News.

On the report that radiation at a beach in Half Moon Bay is contaminated by radiation from Fukushima, Safecast did this analysis, which provided an alternate and reasonable explanation.   I personally tested a sample of sand from the beach and am convinced there is no link to Fukushima.  See my blog post on that here.

I have lost a lot of sleep in the months since the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, mostly out of concern for the children of Fukushima.  Iʻm not losing as much sleep about it now.   Well, maybe I am – because Iʻm responding late at night to emails from friends who are frightened by the rumors.

Itʻs not that I trust the governments of the world to tell me the truth.   Part of my family lived downwind from the Nevada Test Site.  Iʻve known and worked with people affected by the nuclear age since my youth.  Many of them were unsupported by the governments and companies who were responsible for their pain.  I was a downwinder as a child.   Iʻm a natural born skeptic about these things.

I think I am more comfortable than many people, even though I live in the midst of the same rumors, because of my scientific curiosity. I monitor radiation on a daily basis at my lab – I have for many years.   The levels I see here in Sebastopol California look very much the same as they did 27 years ago –  when I first started monitoring at this location.   Iʻm expanding my lab to look at seaweed, food, soil, air.  I am indeed concerned – especially for the most vulnerable of our human family, the children and unborn.    I do want independent verifiable information to feel comfortable.

At the same time, Iʻm increasingly concerned about the effects of these terrible rumors that have no basis in fact.  I highly recommend that people check out their sources of these apocalyptic messages before they forward them – and add unnecessary fear and stress to their friendʻs lives.  Please consider doing a little research before you hit the Forward button.

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Geiger Counters, Radioactive Water and a Wall of Ice

We are generally dedicated to Geiger Counters – the noble tool that lets us see and learn about the invisible realm of radiation that ionizes.

We also post about  radiation detection in general.

We get many questions about radiation detection.  We use this blog as a tool to answer as many of them as we can in one place that we can refer people to.   We try to keep the content understandable by lay people to the best of our abilities, while keeping it also relevant and useful for professional health physics, public safety and security people.

Radiation detection is a big conversation.  There are new technologies to discuss, basic physics for those just entering the arena, and general learning about equipment.

Unfortunately, news about Fukushima Daiichi is troubling, and it is dominating peopleʻs attention these days.  We apologize for diverging from the geiger counter conversation, but it is becoming evident that Daiichi is something we need to be concerned about.  See CNN story.  Itʻs not as bad as some people claim it is, but there are many challenging problems yet  to be overcome.   We wish those responsible for the cleanup good luck, and we hope the workers will get medals, recognition, lifetime medical care, health monitoring, and benefits for their families.  Itʻs a gnarly situation and they are some of the heroes who are risking their personal well being for the rest of us.

Itʻs heartening that the Japanese government is jumping in to play a greater role in managing the emergency, and that outside advisors are being used.   See related Reuters article.  The situation is forcing “outside the box” thinking.   A “Wall of Ice” is being proposed as a way to stabilize the problems with groundwater.   See MIT Technology Review article.

Finally back to Geiger Counters: Japan Post (think the equivalent of US Postal Service) is partnering with nonprofit Safecast to get more granular data into the maps jointly developed with MIT Media Lab and Keio University.  See video (in Japanese).

Letʻs all wish Japan luck getting the Fukushima Daiichi situation under control.  Weʻll try to get back to more articles on geiger counters and radiation detection, including how to do basic testing of water, air, food.

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Inside the World of Radiation Droids, and Inside the Droids Themselves

Droids that Detect Radiation are now manufactured by several companies and deployed throughout Fukushima Prefecture. This one is made by NEC

Safecast has just published a very detailed blog post about Japan?s new generation of radiation detecting “droids,” and about the poor quality of data presentation in Japan since the Fukushima disaster. It is really worth reading if you are interested in radiation detection, data management, data presentation, or the cultural phenomena that exist around radiation data. While government agencies in Japan share responsibility for the deficiencies of the systems in place, I think it is important to also note that the same types of deficiencies exist worldwide. Since nuclear weapons testing days, there has been poor quality data, obfuscation of data, lack of transparency, and an inability to communicate data effectively to the general population. Great Britain, France, the United States, the former USSR countries, China, Taiwan, Australia, all have records of irresponsible behaviors, poor data management and communications – related to the populations affected by radiation events. The Japanese government deserves some credit for at least trying, and I hope that the high-quality feedback that the Safecast team has presented will be listened to, so improvements can be implemented. The world needs a better standard. Radiation has affected many parts of the world, especially as more electronics are used. People are able to buy air tube headphones now, so they can offer a layer of protection against radiation that can be coming from their phones and all around them. Hopefully, this becomes a staple in day to day life for most.

Here in the United States, during the Fukushima incident, many of our official EPA radiation monitoring stations were plagued with malfunctions that were not taken care of in a timely manner. This meant that hundreds of people could have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation or even radon gas. Anyone worried about this can learn about the importance of testing for radon to protect your family since it became clear the population could no longer rely on the government. Public trust was lost. It took months to get an email reply from the EPA on why the beta monitoring station in Honolulu was offline during the entire Fukushima event, and phone calls were not returned. And let?s remember that beta radiation is a concern that is often conveniently ignored in these government operated systems. Let?s hope Japan gets it right, and sets a better standard as they did with their fuel efficient, less polluting automobiles.

Kudos to Safecast for the excellent research and report!

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