Open Letter Regarding Decommissioning Sensors in Fukushima

To Whom It May Concern,

In a report titled 「リアルタイム線量測定システムの配置の見直しについて(案)」 (Review of placement of real-time dosimetry system (draft)) published on March 30, 2018, the NRA announced their plan to remove and/or relocate approximately 80% of the more than 2800 realtime monitoring stations installed in Fukushima since 2011. Among other things, the report argues that radiation levels in some locations, such as parts of Aizu, were never higher than Tokyo to begin with after the accident, and have declined significantly in most other parts of the prefecture. The NRA claims that there will be sufficient monitoring of more appropriate types available (handheld survey meters, etc.) even after most of the monitoring stations are removed, so the need for continuing the current realtime monitoring system is low. They propose to remove the monitoring stations by 2020 from places in evacuation order-lifted areas where dose rates are “sufficiently” low and stable, and propose to relocate some devices to areas where local governments request them.

We think removing these monitors is a terrible, poorly thought out idea.

While we’ve previously written about the problems with how these sensors were deployed (part 1 & part 2) as well as trouble with their upkeep, we’ll be the first to acknowledge that they have also proven useful, and even with their flaws they are better than no sensors at all. Like many aspects of the post-disaster response, the lack of pre-accident planning meant that this system was designed and deployed in a rushed fashion without sufficient consultation with locals. Fujitsu had only 75 days to develop and deploy the data backbone for the entire system, for instance, and hardware developers had only slightly more time. Decisions on the placement of the units were particularly rushed and haphazard, meaning that some areas have many redundant monitoring stations, and others not enough. But the public has come to rely on this system, is in the habit of checking them, and the time and money to install them has already been spent. Removing them now renders that money and effort wasted, and denies citizens access to a frequently used public data source.

While news outlets such as NHK are reporting the proposed move as a final decision, in fact no decision has actually been made yet, and each local government will reportedly be able to decide whether to keep the monitoring stations in its area or have them removed. As these discussions are ongoing it is difficult to gauge the degree of support the plan has from local governments. Included with the March 30th announcement, however, are statements from dozens of prefectural and local officials. The vast majority, roughly 60% – 70%, express some degree of opposition to the removal of the monitoring stations. A statement from an Iwaki official, for instance, says that, “The proposed removal is too abrupt, as the public continues to have anxiety about the radiation dose rates as well as the continuing presence of radioactive materials…. Since the decommissioning of Daiichi is just beginning and will continue for a long time,” they point out, “Iwaki has even prepared new evacuation plans in case of mishaps, and the public will want the monitoring stations to remain in use for their peace of mind.” A Koriyama City official says, “Half of our residents prefer to keep the monitoring stations until the Daiichi reactor is decommissioned, thus we should maintain the monitoring stations.” An Ishikawa-cho town official stated, “Real-time monitoring stations are the only way to remove the fears of residents when the current situation inside the Daiichi reactor is not well understood.”

Reportedly, some towns, such as Nishigomura (in Shirakawa, at the Tochigi border), and Tadamimachi (in western Aizu at the Niigata border) have clearly refused to allow the monitoring stations to be removed. Indications are that Minamsoma intends to keep its monitoring stations as well. Iitate Village has already bolstered the cental government’s system with new monitoring stations under its own control. And not surprisingly, citizens groups such as the Aizu Radiation Information Center have mobilized to oppose the plan.

[Update: Recent Japanese press reports indicate that nearly 50% of Fukushima residents oppose the removal policy.]

July 2018 NHK map describing the planned removal and relocation.

It should be clear that although the continuing criticism of the monitoring post system is warranted, the proposed removal is a bad idea. It appears to be motivated primarily by cost, politics, and PR, rather than by public health and safety concerns. At a time when more transparency is clearly needed, this would be a move in the opposite direction.

It is our official position that these monitoring stations should not be decommissioned.

At Safecast we like to find solutions, and refuse to accept that problems are outside of our control. If the NRA decides to go ahead with this, we’d like to propose an alternative:

Give the project to us.

Safecast is the only non-profit, globally deployed and recognized, independent and open sensor network operating in Fukushima. There is no other organization with more public trust, and no one better positioned to operate the realtime monitoring project. Our existing realtime sensor network is already more efficient and reliable than the government project ever was, achieved at a tiny fraction of the cost per unit, and we feel that if the monitoring stations were transferred to us we could substantially improve the system and how the radiation information is communicated.

Non-functioning “droid” monitoring station in Odaka, Minamisoma, in 2013.

Let us take over the decommissioned sensors and locations, we’ll work directly with the local communities to ensure a trustworthy first alert network is kept online.

Thank you,

Everyone at Safecast

About the Author

Sean Bonner

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Sean Bonner is a co-founder and Global Director of Safecast. Based in Tokyo, he's an Associate Professor at Keio University and an Associate Researcher at the Center For Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab.