Report by a Safecast Volunteer Ms. S.H. in Fukushima City

[This is a guest report by a volunteer in Fukushima City.]

Fukushima City is still exposed to low-dose radiation and many people are living in anxiety.

Since the nuclear disaster occurred, Fukushima City has been left exposed to radiation with no protection measures for a long period of time. Since the accident, all we had were measurements from limited data points published by the state, the prefecture and the city. When considering the damage to children’s health, my priority was to identify the hotspots around us, rather than pursuing the accuracy of the data. I bought a Geiger counter made in China. It took me one month to obtain it after the accident occurred. This Geiger counter gave me some peace of mind by answering the questions I had and easing my anxiety about invisible radiation.

However, after getting a rough idea about the radiation levels, I gradually started to recognize the importance of taking more accurate measurements. It was around that time when I was introduced to Safecast’s activities via Mr. Waterman and my friend Ms. Y who live in Iwaki. Safecast had a system where measurements could be taken by simply driving a car and the readings along the route you have driven can be seen on the website.
I thought that it was an innovative way of measuring the radiation. I joined the fleet hoping that I could contribute to easing the anxiety of Fukushima City residents, by taking measurements. Learning about and understanding the situation that we are in will provide the basis for determining what we should do next.

I met Pieter, Joe and Kiki (Ms. Tanaka) on a cold rainy day. The readings of Inspector (a Geiger counter made in the US) installed in the bGeigie were somewhat higher than the readings of the Chinese Geiger counter.
They explained to me that the Inspector is more sensitive because the Geiger-Muller tube used in the Inspector is larger and the surface area of the tube which picks up rays is larger, and that it detects alpha, beta and gamma rays. I also learned that Chinese Geiger counters are less sensitive. However, this was the best I could do as a lay person at the time. The difference between the two Geiger counters was: 0.14 μSv/h and 0.3 μSv/h on the same spot, for example. This cleared up my anxiety about errors. I would have been devastated if the error had been five fold. Some people might feel that 0.3 μSv/h indoors is high. However, in Fukushima City, the highest reading around the time of the accident was 24 μSv/h. The same point in Fukushima City reads 1.2 μSv/h now.
The radiation levels are getting significantly lower. It may be difficult to understand what our daily lives have become like unless one lives in Fukushima.

As for taking measurements using the bGeigie, you will get used to mounting it on your car after practicing several times. It does not damage your car, but it does stand out. You cannot leave a bGeigie-mounted car in a car park because of the possibility of theft. I use my spare time to take measurements. I started off with my neighboring residential area. It is not a hassle to take measurements by car because cars are the usual means of transportation in Fukushima. I drive around the neighboring residential area when I go shopping. I drive around the same area at a speed of 20-30 kilometers per hour to measure the area. When I get back home, I download the data for the day from the SD card installed in the system and send it via email. Once, my child opened the window on which the bGeigie was mounted when we were waiting for the traffic lights to change and the device fell to the ground. Fortunately, the bGeigie did not break. I recommend that you lock the window when the bGeigie is mounted on it. The map which shows the readings along the route I drove is uploaded onto the website a few days later. I also personally keep a record of the routes that I have driven in order to avoid taking measurements on the same route twice.

Fukushima Prefecture finally started taking measurements by car and making decontamination efforts. However, we still have to wait for a long time before the information becomes publicly available. We have to live in an unprecedented situation where the future is unpredictable for years to come. I hope that many cars mounted with bGeigies will drive around Fukushima Prefecture in the future. This requires support from many more volunteers. Right now, I think it is most important for Safecast’s technologies, knowledge and information to be disseminated, so that they are seen by more people and then utilized and shared by more people.

S. H., Fukushima City