Safecast seminar in Iwaki

This is a guest post written by Ryuichi Mori, ex vice chairman of Dentsu and Advisor to MIT media lab.

On March 1, I was invited by Pieter and Joe of Safecast Japan to convene a radiation seminar in the City of Iwaki, Fukushima. The tsunami all but wiped out Fukushima Prefecture’s fishing industry. The nuclear accidents added further insult to injury. Fukushima’s fish markets have been effectively obliterated. Radiation levels in the area make recovery all the more difficult, and the fishermen continue to spend their days in port rather than out at sea.

Here is the situation that Fukushima is facing.

It is possible to monitor the radioactivity in fish and vegetables, but even if one were to do this every day, it’s a fact that the appearance of even a single highly radioactive plant or fish product somewhere would be catastrophic for the prefectural market as a whole. Harmful rumors swirl unchecked. And the cost of equipment needed to measure radioactivity levels in living beings is extremely high, presenting a serious hurdle for deciding when, who, and where to conduct testing.

Without sellers and consumers, there is no fishing industry. And so the fishermen of Fukushima bide their time waiting for the day they can once again put out to sea and ply their trade. It is an extremely trying time.

There are no major technical hurdles in the measurement of radioactivity itself. I feel that standards should be set based on continuous testing over a large number of sites. If cheaper Geiger counters can be developed to measure the radioactivity of seafood, the results could be announced daily, so as to give consumers an objective guide by which to make their decisions. Localities have taken the steps of measuring and posting readings on an ad hoc basis, but the prospects are dim for these unorganized efforts to guide us out of the current dark situation.

This is why I went to Iwaki. Of course, I was also motivated to promote and stimulate the quietly ongoing efforts of Safecast to measure and publicize radiation measurements on roadways over a broad area of the country. I wanted to tell the people of Iwaki about what Safecast is doing.

Mr. Koiso, a local journalist, helped arrange a suitable spot for a lecture at a hall near the station, and with the help of an article in his paper we convened the talk with a full house of thirty attendees.

First Pieter presented for an hour, followed by an hour-long question and answer session. The resulting series of passionate and highly technical questions made it a very successful seminar. I was moved by the accuracy and amount of information the participants had about radiation levels.

It also reminded me of the importance of Safecast’s efforts. The participants and Safecast members both agreed that the most important thing going forward is to continue measuring as many places as possible, to publicize this data so that anyone can see it, and to use the resulting transparency to replace the current cycle of hope and fear with a more measured and deliberate take on the situation.

This also reinforced my view that we need to develop a low-cost Geiger counter that can be distributed to fishermen as soon as possible. We are united in the hope for a day when the display of daily readings at markets will bring the peace of mind needed to allow Fukushima’s fishermen to resume their livelihoods once again.

But perhaps most of all, the day was a reminder that Safecast’s work is low- key but an important step towards helping those most affected by the nuclear accidents return to their normal lives once again.