Solarcast Nano installed near Daiichi

Above: Joe mounting the Solarcast Nano within sight of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This week Safecast installed one of our new Solarcast Nano realtime radiation sensors at a site inside the exclusion zone in Okuma, Fukushima, just 2 km from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactor. We currently have 15 fixed realtime sensors in Fukushima, as a reality check against official monitoring data. This is the closest to Daiichi we’ve been able to place a realtime sensor so far. As we described in our blog post last month, the Solarcast Nano is a solar-powered, stand-alone realtime monitoring device which evolved out of our earlier Pointcast and original Solarcast designs. We built ten prototype Solarcast Nano units in a test build session at our office in Tokyo last month, and have been testing them since then. We were shown this site in Okuma last month as well, the same day we had our tour of Daiichi, and immediately sought permission to mount a Solarcast there. Cooperative officials from Fukushima Prefecture, who understand the importance of transparency, helped make it happen. The site is an abandoned elderly home called the Sunlight Okuma Elderly Care Facility, which sits on a hilltop about 100m above sea level with an unobstructed view of Daiichi. Sunlight Okuma was within the 3km area given an evacuation order at 9pm on March 11, 2011. Thankfully the evacuation was handled well and there were no fatalities among the frail residents as there were at several other elderly homes and hospitals in Fukushima. Seeing the facility today is a bit depressing, as it was obviously a well-designed and attractive place when it was in operation. Now an abandoned gurney blocks the main entryway and the lobby shows signs of hasty abandonment, an eerie time capsule of six and a …

Safecast Visit to Fukushima Daiichi

I can’t count how many images I’ve seen of the reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi in the last seven years, easily hundreds, maybe thousands. I’ve seen photos, illustrations, maps, diagrams and even video detailing every angle and perspective. None of that prepared me for the awe of standing in front of them. This is ground zero for Safecast. These buildings, and what happened here in March 2011 would change my life – all of our lives – in one way or another, forever. Some might argue that Tepco is the antithesis of everything that Safecast stands for, so how did I and several of the core Safecast team find ourselves standing here this chilly December afternoon? As you can imagine, it’s not a short story…   We’ve managed to get bGeigies onsite at Daiichi several times in the past, mostly thanks to our lead engineer JAM, who has a knack for being asked by media crews to accompany them as a technical specialist who can let them know when they’re being bullshitted. We haven’t hidden our onsite surveys at Daiichi but haven’t advertised them either – if you’ve looked at our maps you’ve seen the data already. But Tepco is in a bit of a quandary of late. They know they’re viewed as evil, and are aware that the internet is full of stories claiming that the corpses of dead plant workers are stacked up in secret morgues. Even without the fake stories they know they fucked up stupendously. They’re Big Energy, with all the environmental depredation that implies, but despite that they seem to be hoping that they’ll be given due credit for their efforts to fix the situation. As part of this, they’ve taken steps to make the Daiichi plant more accessible to the public. In the past …

Introducing the Solarcast Nano

Earlier this year we announced our new Solarcast device. Most notably, this was our first production device to include air quality monitoring capability, but more significant for us was that thanks to Solarcast’s onboard cellular connection and solar power, we now had the ability to “drop and forget” a device, rather than depend on external power infrastructure or manual processes to get data from it. This was a major step  for Safecast and something we knew would find more uses for going forward. A few weeks later a tunnel collapse at the Hanford Site in Washington State presented just the kind of use case we had envisioned. The exciting benefits of Solarcast, however, were counterbalanced by its steep cost and time-consuming production requirements, and while the addition of air quality sensing is something we’ve been working on for a while, it’s not not necessary for quick-deployment radiation survey and monitoring scenarios like at Hanford. Our bGeigie Nano excels at that kind of operation, but it requires someone to physically carry the device around and upload the data. We needed something that combined compact portability and fully automated operation. So we designed it. And sliding in just before the end of the year, we’re excited to introduce the Solarcast Nano.   The Solarcast Nano emerged from our ongoing around the clock discussions of needs and emerging technical  possibilities.  As with the original Solarcast, Ray Ozzie led the design and wrote the software for it. The air quality components in the original Solarcast draw a lot of power, and eliminating them in the Solarcast Nano allowed us to shrink the size of the solar panel, with hopes of fitting it into a smaller pelican case similar to the bGeigie. We brought in Joseph Chiu from ToyBuilder Labs to do the 3d modeling and …

Southern California Wildfire Zones on the Safecast Map

The horrific wildfires currently burning in the Southern California region have already been devastating for some and have many others understandably concerned. In addition to the damage from the fires themselves, smoke inhalation could present health risks to people in the area. Safecast currently has 30 Solarcast units deployed in the LA area, which are equipped to measure particulate levels in air. In response to requests, we have added indications on our web-based map showing the extent of the fires as of Dec 9th, 2017. We have included five fire zone boundaries so far. They are: Thomas fire, Rye fire, Skirball fire, Creek fire, and Lilac fire. We hope they are informative. We can add more if it becomes necessary. If the fire zone indications are not automatically displayed when you view the Safecast tilemap : — Expand the control menu on the left-hand side of the window. — Scroll down until you see “Areas.” Toggle the selector switches for the fire zones to the “on” (blue) position. — If not already displayed, the Safecast Solarcast air quality measurements can be displayed by toggling the “Ingest Sensors” selector to the “on” position as well. An additional selector below that allows PM size and several other Solarcast measurement parameters to be chosen also. Please note: — The Safecast map is not a fire map! The fire boundary guidelines we provide are for information and context only. For safety information please consult reliable fire maps such as this California State fire map, this Google Crisis map and this Direct Relief map. —So far, almost all of the fires have been west of our sensors, and the wind has been blowing smoke westward over the ocean as well. This means our Solarcasts have not been in a position to detect much yet. Santa …

SAFECAST CONFERENCE IN FUKUSHIMA

Almost seven years have passed since 3 · 11, and while we’ve been informed that the decommissioning of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant will take 40 more years, we wonder what will Fukushima look like 50 years after that, in 2111. To consider those questions, we will hold the Safecast Conference In Fukushima SCC2017, titled “Super Presentation: Environment, IOT, Open Data. Citizen science for Fukushima of the 22nd Century.” As our main speakers, we invited Safecast Advisor Ray Ozzie, former CSA of Microsoft, and Tamagawa Ken, president of Soracom, to discuss what they envision for Fukushima 100 years from now. Please join us! http://fuku100.org/    

Ruthenium coverup continues

Several days ago, we published our first blog post about the notable release of Ruthenium-106 that was detected in Europe in late September-early October of this year. As we noted, detections of Ru-106 were confirmed by over 30 countries, and careful analyses performed independently by the national laboratories of France, Germany, and the Czech Republic all pointed to the southern Urals as the likely origin of the release. From the outset, the accident-prone nuclear processing facility at Mayak, in the Chelyabinsk region in the southern Urals, was considered a prime suspect. But Russian authorities vehemently denied that any unusual levels of Ru-106 had been detected in that country, or that Russia was in any way responsible. Yesterday Russia came clean. Sort of. Specifically, the Russian meteorology service Rosgidromet issued a statement (in Russian) that levels of Ru-106 up to 986 times the normal background level had been detected in that country in September (helpful English-language news articles here and  here). The highest levels were detected in Argayash, about 20km from Mayak. An 11-page Russian-language bulletin containing measurements from dozens of locations in Russia in September surfaced online shortly afterward. Nadezhda Kutepova, a Russian activist who has clashed with authorities because of her work on behalf of workers and the public in Mayak, was forced to flee to France in 2015; she issued a detailed statement from Paris on November 21st in which she gave plausible reasons why the Ru-106 release was likely due to a malfunctioning nuclear waste glassification system at Mayak. Spokesmen from Mayak, however, continue to deny that the facility is in any way responsible. No other nuclear-related facility in Russia has claimed responsibility yet either. It is difficult to accurately gauge the seriousness of possible health consequences of this release without more detailed information from the site …

The Bgeigie Diaries: Daiichi and the Dutch connection

Rob Oudendjik is one of the very early Safecast members. He was involved in many of the projects that laid the foundation for the current generation of bGeigies, as well as the way that Safecast gathers its data. He shares his memories of the early Safecast days, as well as what keeps him involved six years after the disaster at Daiichi. You were in Japan at the time of the disaster. I wondered if you could share how your initial connection to Safecast came about? That would be through my fellow Dutchman Pieter Franken, who I got to know through a system we were working on for the Dutch Embassy that would help give updates to and about Dutch people in Japan in case of an emergency. It worked as a message chain that would ask people is they needed help or if they were OK. One of the things that we discovered in 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami was that SMS worked much better than other things like trying to contact people through satellite phones. This was partially because much of their bandwidth was suddenly occupied. As a result, a big chunk of the satellite communications system was suddenly unavailable. However, Skype and SMS worked fine. I think it is an example of how difficult it can be to be technically prepared for a disaster like the one in 2011. The knock-on effects can be very difficult to predict. What are your memories of those early days after the disaster struck? The day after the earthquake, my partner Yuka and I got a call from a Dutch journalist who asked if we could help him getting into and around in the Fukushima area. We agreed and we went off together. I also knew that Pieter’s family in law …

About that radioactive plume of Ru-106….

Above: The map released by IRSN on Nov. 9, 2017. Please note that it does not show the extent of the Ru-106 plume itself, but the likelihood that any of the grid points is the origin of the release. Updated Nov. 17, 2017, with information regarding a closed IAEA assessment made in mid-October, which was helpfully pointed out to us by a reader. Updated Nov. 20, 2017, with information regarding the analysis released in mid-October by the Czech National Radiation Protection Institute (SURO) in collaboration with the Institute of Information Theory and Automation (UTIA); also a theory that the release may have originated at Dimitrovgrad. Several days have passed since news articles appeared which summarized the findings of IRSN (Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, the French national radiation laboratory) regarding a sizable plume of radioactive Ruthenium 106 which was detected wafting over Europe in September and October 2017, peaking between Oct 2-3 and decreasing after that. Ru-106, which has a half-life of about one year, is used in cancer treatment for eye tumors, for powering orbital satellites, and can be released during nuclear fuel reprocessing. It was the only radionuclide from this incident detected by European laboratories, which rules out a nuclear reactor accident. Although the detections had been quickly reported by the relevant agencies of several European countries within the first week of October, and a number of articles about it appeared in the mass media at the same time, the event largely escaped public notice until IRSN’s report last week, which included an alarming map (above). IRSN, as well as Germany’s BfS (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz/ Federal Office for Radiation Protection), which has also conscientiously reported the results of its measurements since October, both gave assurance that the radiation levels detected in those countries were extremely low. In France, …