Safecast On Board For Blind Sailor’s Attempt To Cross The Pacific Ocean

In the last week of February, Mitsuhiro ‘Hiro’ Iwamoto will set out from San Diego with a bGeigie onboard. If all goes according to plan, he and crewmate Doug Smith will sail the ‘Dream Weaver,’ a 40-foot cutter, across the Pacific Ocean non-stop to Onahama in Fukushima prefecture. While an impressive feat in its own right, it becomes even more remarkable when considering that Hiro, the far more experienced sailor of the two, is completely blind. It’s also Hiro’s second try at crossing the Pacific after the first attempt in 2013 ended with his sailboat hitting a whale and sinking “I’ll be the “seeing-eye Doug” on the trip with Hiro being the ship captain,” wisecracks Doug.” For us, it’s a trip about inspiring others to overcome adversity in ways similar to how Hiro overcame becoming completely blind at the age of 16.” They call this two-month trip the Voyage of Inspiration, and on top of inspiring others to overcome adversity by achieving their dreams, Hiro and Doug hope to raise money and awareness for selected charities. The Fukushima Connection The reasons for choosing Onahama as a final destination are twofold. For one thing, it was the starting point of Hiro’s first attempt to cross the Pacific in a sailboat. The second is that the two men want to show continued support for the people of Japan and specifically for those in Onahama who are still struggling in the aftermath of the triple disaster in Tohoku, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown in March 2011. At the time the earthquake struck, Doug was on the 29th floor of Roppongi Hills in Tokyo and he still vividly recalls how the whole building swung back and forth. “The event itself impacted my family and me – like all others in …

Welcome in 2019 with Safecast in Shibuya!

Sunday, January 13th, 2019 – Safecast Shinnenkai (New Year’s Party) It’s time to welcome in 2019 with Safecast! The yearly Safecast shinnenkai (New Year’s party) is always a great get together. Staff, volunteers, advisors, family, and friends all get a chance to meet new people, reminisce about the past year, and talk what’s coming up for the next. This year’s shinnenkai will be no different. A lot’s been happening at Safecast: radiation and air quality measurements, brand new devices in the works, educational programs, Safecast Asia Network, international projects, and more on tap for 2019. Safecast’s master chef Jonathan Wilder will prepare his superb Middle-Eastern food, and there will be plenty of drinks. And, as a special added treat, there will be a live performance by jazz vocalist Lumiko and guitarist Bob Ward. It will be held on Sunday January 13th, starting at 5pm, on the 10th floor space at Loftwork in Shibuya Dogenzaka, same as in previous years. Visit our office, mingle with other volunteers and enjoy some great food and music! We hope to see everyone there! Schedule: 5:00pm – doors open – grab a drink! 5:30 – Safecast update 6:30 – Toast 7:30 – Mini Live performance by Lumiko (v) & Bob Ward (g) 9:00 – Close Contribution: 3000 yen (for food and drinks) or 2000 yen and bring your own drinks. Vegetarian/Vegan options available Location: Loftwork 10F, Dogenzaka 1-22-7, Shibuya 150-0043 (right above FabCafe) Map here

Woolsey Fire and the Santa Susana Field Laboratory

Above: Aerial photo from CBSLA showing the start of the fire at SSFL. We’ve received quite a few inquiries over the past several days regarding the potential consequences of the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, which has burned through part of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) site in Ventura County immediately south of Simi Valley. The SSFL site, which closed in 1996, housed ten nuclear reactors as well as rocket engine test facilities, and is highly contaminated with radioactive and toxic wastes remaining from decades of poor disposal practices and numerous accidents. The public is understandably concerned about the possibility that contaminants have been spread by the fire, which reached the site on Fri. Nov. 8th, but was reportedly no longer burning within it the following day. Safecast had no survey data from the immediate SSFL area prior to the fire, but we had a fair amount of data from nearby communities which showed it to be at normal background levels. Our realtime radiation and particulate sensors in the Southern California region, the closet of which is 30km (about 18 miles) away from SSFL, have shown no measurable increases in radiation. Safecast volunteers are on the way to the site, however, so hopefully we will have new data to share soon. Though CalFire indicates that the fire danger in the SSFL area has passed, many roads are still closed, making access difficult.  Official agencies, including the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC ) and the LA County Department of Public Health have issued statements saying that they have surveyed the site and detected no radiation above normal background levels. As of this writing, neither agency has provided actual measurement data or details about their methodology. One potential health concern would be from inhalation of radioactive material lofted …

Safecast at the IAEA

Above: This image of Azby making a key point was tweeted by Sebastian Hueber, Head of Communications at Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate. Azby spent the first week of October this year in Vienna in order to participate in a major IAEA conference called CNREP2018 (International Symposium on Communicating Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies to the Public). This conference brought together approximately 400 experts, the majority of them female, from 74 member states and 13 international organizations, for five days of discussions. When we first accepted an invitation to present at the IAEA in 2014, we explained to the Safecast community that our end goal was to gain acceptance for citizen science-based data gathering like ours among the official nuclear regulatory and emergency preparedness communities. As we recounted on our blog at the time, we encountered skepticism and criticism from the assembled experts, but also found significant support. Since that time we’ve taken many opportunities to present at radiation safety, communication, and preparedness conferences. We tell the expert community about our growth and successes, identify our shared concerns, and continue to stress the need for clear policy guidelines stipulating the inclusion of citizen groups in planning and preparedness. The response to Azby’s presentation at CNREP2018 was a clear indication that experts at national and international agencies increasingly “get it.” The expert community as a whole recognizes that since the Fukushima accident in particular, a crisis of trust exists which is amplified by misinformation circulating within social media, and that this has clear safety implications. In the event of a future accident or incident, people are likely to be inundated with conflicting messages, some of them malicious, and will have difficulty knowing who to believe. At the conferences and meetings we attend, we describe our approach towards trust-building, in which public participation and openness …

Nano Assembly Manual Update

We’ve made a major update to the bGeigie Nano Assembly Manual, which is accessible at the same location as previously at GitHub: There haven’t been any major changes to the Nano itself, but the main board has undergone several small revisions since the last manual update, the current version being 1.1r5a. A few components had also developed minor variants as well which weren’t well represented. We also have a lot more experience teaching others how to build the Nano, and a better idea of what order things should be done and which steps required clearer explanation. We took new step-by-step photos which show the most current versions of everything. Like everything at Safecast this was a group effort, and a work in progress. Many thanks to Azby, Joe, Louise, and Victor.

Safecast at Soma Future Lab 2018

Above: Jessica gives kGeigie building advice to a pair of young participants.  Safecast recently held a series of workshops in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, as part of an event held at the Soma Amway House called “Soma Future Lab 2018.” The two-day event (August 22-23) was open to the public, and elementary and secondary school students and their parents/guardians were encouraged to attend. In addition to Safecast, there were performances by the Japanese comedian Nasubi and musician “hacto,” as well as a workshop run by paper plane expert Jun Tamba, and a presentation about spaceflight and research by Junichi Haruyama of JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Fukushima University and the Environment Ministry also had activities and displays.  For this event we used our innovative kGeigie kits, which allow even elementary school-age children to build and test a working geiger counter. We had a steady stream of children, parents, and grandparents participating. Joe, Pieter, our interns Franco and Victor, and Joe’s granddaughter Jessica got them all started on their way to being citizen scientists!   The Amway House in Soma is one of four community centers in Tohoku built by donations received in response to the March 2011 disasters. The Remember HOPE initiative has collected over 930 million yen as of June 2018, and a fifth Amway House community center is now being built in the city of Rikuzentakata. The goal is to provide places and opportunities for people in the area. Safecast began a cooperative project with Amway this year to provide sensors, workshops, and other assistance for local residents through the Amway Houses. We installed a Pointcast realtime radiation monitor at the Soma Amway House in March, and our participation in the Soma Future Lab 2018 event is a further step towards our engagement with these communities.  

Rebuttal of “Calibration of Safecast dose rate measurements,” by Cervone and Hultquist

From the outset, Safecast has hoped that our data would prove useful to researchers and decision makers as well as to the general public. As time has passed the number of academic papers that examines the Safecast project and the data it has produced has steadily increased, which is something we welcome. Some of these papers have been well-done and helpful, while others have fallen short. We’ve taken the unusual step of formulating a detailed rebuttal of “Calibration of Safecast dose rate measurements,” by Guido Cervone and Carolynne Hultquist, in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Volumes 190–191, October 2018, Pages 51-65. We think the paper is flawed and is based on several crucial misunderstandings. We’ve posted our critique on the Safecast Discussion, and a direct link to the thread can be found here. This way others can join in on what we hope will become a productive discussion with wider implications both radiation measurement in general and citizen science in particular. The Safecast Discussion is open for anyone to read, but it’s necessary to sign up in order to post comments. 

8 year old bGeigie Builder

We have a new record: Our youngest bGeigie builder ever! While we’ve organized and helped with many workshops for children future scientists around the world, we usually focus on the science behind community environmental monitoring and very easy and quick kit builds. Building a bGeigie is a serious time and mental commitment that can often take an adult builder a whole weekend to complete, we tell people to budget in 5-6 hours at least. Having grown up around Safecast, Ripley recently decided he was up to the task of building a bGeigie himself, from scratch. At only 8 years old, this would make him the youngest person to attempt the build by almost 5 years. Last week at our office in Tokyo after a brief “how to solder” lesson, he jumped head first into the deep end. After about 3 hours he got to the crucial “plug in the battery, turn it on, and see what mistakes you’ve made” stage which has been known to result in head scratching and scrunched eyebrows while trying to find which solder joint is shorting or isn’t connected completely. We braced ourselves, warned him it might not work, and that was OK. Instead this happened:  It worked! And after a short lunch break, and another hour or so of larger parts assembly it was complete. When asked about the experience, Ripley says “It was pretty hard, but also pretty fun. If you want to build one you shouldn’t expect it to be finished really quickly, so make sure to take your time and do it right. It’s also a really good way to learn how to solder, because there is a lot of soldering!” He added that he’s excited about carrying his bGeigie around to show off to people and help measure radiation with …

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 …

The bGeigie Diaries: Travelling Through Invisible Time In Fukushima

The following is a collection of impressions and thoughts from a recent trip to the Fukushima region with Safecast. It is a personal account of the trip and should be read as such. March 13th, 2018, approximately 3.30 pm The high school looks and feels like almost any other that you can find throughout Japan. On the grounds outside the main building, which looks like it’s put together out of oversized concrete Lego bricks, a sweating football team is running through the last of the day’s practice drills on a reddish, sandy pitch. The trophy cabinet inside the entrance hall suggests that they’re pretty good. I grew up playing football (still wondering how the national team coach must have lost my phone number), and it tugs at invisible strings to look on from the sidelines. I had the luxury of real grass pitches. It makes you play differently, more freely. Most of the teenagers throwing themselves around this pitch in Fukushima today are probably blissfully unaware of what they’re missing out on. This is what they are used to. Somewhere on the second floor, a music teacher, who must either have gone full Beethoven or have the patience of a saint, is subjecting him or herself to an hour in the company of the most disorganised horn section I have ever heard. Perhaps they’re not practising classics but playing modern, avant-garde, 12-tone jazz. The bleeps, blaahhts, and screeches echo across a courtyard where small groups of students move between buildings. I walk down the hallway’s grey, laminated floors, past classrooms, and curious, inquisitive heads pop up out of textbooks and physics experiments to see who’s come to visit on this perfectly ordinary Tuesday afternoon. Most of them must have been around 10 years old, and likely in school, on Friday, …