The bGeigie Diaries: The Temple Tale Of Fukushima City

Sadamaru Okano is a Zen priest at the Seirinji temple in the Fukushima region. He is one of the few individuals to have systematically collected radiation data in Fukushima that predates the Safecast data set. Here he speaks about his experiences in Fukushima around the time of  the earthquake of 2011 and why he stays involved with Safecast seven years after the Daiichi nuclear meltdown. You are one of the few people that had radiation data from the time predating the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. What led you to start collecting that data? When I was young – or should I say younger – in the late 80s and early 90s, I travelled quite a bit, many times in connection with volunteering. It introduced me to many cultures and gave me many friends from all over the world. On a couple of the trips, I met volunteers from countries in Eastern Europe. Of course, I knew about Chernobyl, but in my mind, it was over. This was the way that most people thought and felt about it. However, I met volunteers from Belarus and Ukraine who told me that it was definitely not over. That was one of the things that made me start to study radioactive materials and later to start taking measurements in the area around the temple where I am a priest today. The temple and your family have a long relation to this area, I believe. Can you tell me a bit about it and your memories of growing up here in Fukushima?    Our current temple, where we sit today, is over 150 years old. Before that, there was a similar temple on the grounds. My mother was born in Kawauchi village, and we have many relatives in other cities across the prefecture. I have cousins …

Safecast bGeigie featured in recent museum exhibitions

The bGeigie has been taking a small break from its day job collecting radiation data and touring museums in Asia and North America. The visits are merely a different kind of work, though, as Safecast’s bGeigie Nano and data visualizations have been featured two interesting recent exhibitions. One, called “Make It Make It,” was at the Buk Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA). The exhibition’s aim was to reinterpret maker activity and the makers movement from the viewpoint of contemporary art. Safecast and its bGeigie were featured as part of the exhibition as an illustration of ‘what collective intelligence can connect, collaborate and share over the network.’ On the American East Coast, another bGeigie was part of the Big Bang Data exhibition at the MIT Museum.  Big Bang Data’s aim is to explore where – and how – culture, technology, and society intersect in the digital age. It was initially conceived by the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (CCCB) and has been travelling the world since 2014. Prior to arriving at MIT, the exhibition has been held in London, Mexico City, Prague, Singapore, and several other cities. A big thanks to Safecast collaborator Hugh Choi for the photos used in this article! 

The bGeigie Diaries: Fukushima’s Christian Connection to Safecast

Heiwa Kataoka could be called Safecast’s divine connection. He is a member of a Christian congregation, and through his work with churches and NGOs has become one of the world’s most prolific bGeigie-builders. Here he shares his Safecast memories and experiences, which began with a visit to his father’s house back in 2011. Your connection with Safecast began with a house visit, didn’t it? Yes, my introduction to Safecast was through Pieter Franken, who visited my family’s house in Aizuwakamatsu city in Fukushima prefecture back in 2011. My father was – and is – a pastor, and our family has been involved with NGO work for a long time. Religious groups are meant to serve communities that have suffered and/or are suffering. And, that is one of the reasons why we became increasingly involved with radiation issues after the Daiichi disaster. Since Pieter’s visit, we have been involved with Safecast and collaborated in different ways. One example is that I made a map of Japan that visualizes the distance between nuclear facilities and Christian churches, as well as kindergartens and nursery schools that are run by those churches. My dream is to deploy Solarcast devices to the churches and institutions near the facilities. I can’t wait to see this perfect combination of Safecast and the Bible verse, John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What are your memories of the early days of collaborating with Safecast? I think that my memories are tied to the way that Safecast had created a solution that people could build and use in their own areas. For example, my brother attended an early Safecast workshop in Aizuwakamatsu and built his own bGeigie Nano. I remember him coming back to the house with it afterwards and showing it …

The bGeigie Diaries: Earthquake Fish, Seaweed, and Safecast’s Apolitical Stance

If Safecast volunteers had CVs, Jonathan Wilder’s would likely be one of the most diverse. Procurement officer, volunteer scientist, and chef extraordinaire are but a few of the roles he has filled since joining the group in late 2012. You might be one of the non-Japanese members of Safecast who has lived here the longest. What brought you to Japan? I came to Japan in 1991 and have lived here in central Tokyo ever since. The short version is that back in Massachusetts it was a confluence of several circumstances in my life that made the move to Japan possible: someone here in Japan invited me to stay at his place to start with; a job had just ended; my car lease was up; and I had a little bit of money saved up. The opportunity, combined with old memories of Japan and an appreciation for the culture, particularly the food, was enough to make me decide to come here. The first time I visited Japan was in 1970. During my childhood, my family lived in New Delhi. Each summer, on home leave, we would stop by other countries and that summer we came to Tokyo and the Osaka Expo. My first memory of Japan was being on a bus leaving Haneda airport. There were protestors outside lining the road outside the airports gates. I suppose now they were local farmers whose farms and fields were up for demolition to make way for construction projects. One of the other things I remember is visiting Ginza in the midst of a typhoon, seeing the tall buildings in Ginza, which were so different from New Delhi. When walking about Ginza, I felt tall. I don’t feel that now. Japanese people have grown, much like Tokyo. We took the Shinkansen to Osaka. That …

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 …