Transparency, the olympics, and that damned water, Part 2

Above: Official messaging about Fukushima focusses on happiness. Part 1 here Part 2: What about the Olympics? The concerns we hear about the 2020 Olympics are more generalized and less focussed than those about the water in the tanks at Fukushima Daiichi. Some people ask us if it’s safe to come to Japan at all. Others narrow it down to Fukushima Prefecture. A few journalists and others have specifically asked us to weigh in on the potential risks to people who attend the events which will be held in Azuma Stadium in Fukushima City.  Our response to Tokyo businessman Roy Tomizawa was to suggest he build a bGeigie and survey the stadium himself. He did, and wrote about it. Helping people find out for themselves is how we prefer to interact with and inform the public. We often point out that the entire framing of “safety” when it comes to radiation risk is problematic. The guidelines for acceptable radiation limits in food, the environment, and elsewhere are not really “safety” limits, and exceeding them does not mean “unsafe.” They are warning levels that trigger protective actions intended to prevent actually “unsafe” exposures. In each case, the important questions are: Do you understand this risk, and is it acceptable to you? This is where people need help, and where government has so far largely failed in its mission to inform. Once again we think it comes down to transparency. A quick Google search of “Fukushima Olympics”  will illustrate the widespread belief that athletes and visitors who go to Fukushima next year will be putting their lives at risk. The Korean government has announced that their teams will bring their own food so as not to incur potential health risks from eating local products. Many people suspect that the Japanese Government is …

Transparency, the olympics, and that damned water, Part 1

Above: Joe’s drone image of the water tanks at Fukushima Daiichi, December ,2018 Part 2 here Questions, questions… It’s hard to say what we get more questions about lately, the 2020 Olympics or the plan to release water from Fukushima Daiichi to the Pacific Ocean. Both issues involve public safety. How safe from radiation will people be who will attend Olympic games in Japan next year, specifically those who attend events to be held in Fukushima? How safe is it for TEPCO to release the water containing tritium and other radionuclides that is currently being stored in hundreds of tanks onsite at Fukushima Daiichi? These are separate issues of course, but in both cases the answers hinge on transparency. We think the fact that we get so many questions about these issues from both journalists and the general public indicates a continuing lack of trust in what the Japanese government and TEPCO say about anything related to Fukushima. That there can be no trust without transparency has become one of our mantras, and we repeat it at every opportunity. Whether the questions are about the Olympics, the water, food safety, the environment, or health, available scientific data only fills in part of the picture. Time and again we’ve found that even when the science generally supports official policy, the public is not given enough transparent information to evaluate the accuracy of the statements they’re hearing. And all too often we ourselves are forced to conclude that we haven’t seen enough reliable information to either confidently validate or refute official claims. Part 1: What about the water? In the case of the water in the tanks, last year I wrote a detailed two-part blog post as well as a newspaper op-ed about the issue. I pointed out the problems we saw …

Safecasting Fashion

One of the less obvious uses of open data and open licensing is that things can be used in ways that someone might never consider an option with all the traditional hoops that need to be jumped through. While not specifically related to licensing, Tara’s recent post about using bGeigie logs to generate music is an excellent example of using Safecast data in ways it was never intended, with wonderful results. Another example is this rarely seen collaboration with Slow Factory. Several years ago I was talking to Céline Semaan about her work with Slow Factory, a sustainably focused company who was using openly licensed imagery from NASA to bring science into fashion and related conversations. We talked about the potential to use some Safecast data and visualizations in a similar way, and because the data is public domain and maps openly licensed this could just be done without legal concerns of any time. A few pieces were made and sold out right away, unfortunately before we were able to get photos. Recently Rachel Binx, a data science engineer based in Los Angeles, posted an image of one of her favorite scarfs – and it happened to be from the this collaboration! This scarf is actually part of the “Endangered X Extinct” collection which brings attention to changes in the natural world, and animals that are no longer with us. The pairing of the extinct Carolina Parakeet imagery with Safecast radiation visualizations is both beautiful, but also layered with complexity as humans and human development are directly connected to the Carolina Parakeet’s extinction, and the Safecast radiation map is a reminder of the largely unseen impact we continue to have on our environment. While these pieces are no longer available, we love that they exist out in the world and …

Compose Music Using Your Safecast bGeigie Nano Data

Safecast Music Compose Step 4

Convert Safecast bGeigie CPM Readings To A Midi File in Less Than 10 Minutes! For the past couple of years, I’ve been inspired by numerous artists that have utilized Safecast radiation data and the bGeigie nano device to imagine it in ways that go outside the norms of scientific data represented in bar graphs and maps. You may also be interested to know that some of the Safecast founders are very into making music! After coming across a post by Forest Mims III on converting scientific data into music, I decided to try converting one of my bGeigie drives into a musical piece. The readings I chose are from my Forest Medicine training in Uenomura, Japan in May, 2019 and I paired the music with a recent trip to Europe which you can listen to and watch here. Here’s how you can do it too: STEP 1 – Export Your bGeigie log file This assumes you have uploaded a bGeigie file! Go to https://api.safecast.org/ Log In Click Review your bGeigie log file submissions Toggle the tab in the top right from Everyone to Yours Choose one of your submissions and click the log In the top right of the page, click Download Original File STEP 2 – Convert log file to .csv file  Rename your log file to use the extension .csv E.g. change 12345.log to 12345.csv Import your comma-separated file into a spreadsheet Here’s how to do it in Google Spreadsheets: Navigate to Google Drive Click New File Upload Choose the file from your computer After the upload is complete, double click on the file It will open in Google Spreadsheets Copy the CPM values that you want to convert into a midi file (column D is your CPM readings) STEP 3 – Convert CPM Readings To Midi File …

Brief update on Air Quality

NorCal smoke

Despite the drastic measure of cutting power to hundreds of thousands (and potentially millions more) of people in efforts prevent wildfires, California is burning again. And with fires comes smoke, enough to close schools across Los Angeles out of concern for air quality and further north the winds are projected to shift and will be blowing smoke on millions of people over the next few days. This on the heels of news that after decades of improvement, air quality in the US is suddenly getting worse. In anticipation of questions on the subject we thought now would be a good time to quickly discuss the state of our air quality monitoring efforts. In 2012 we began looking at air quality as something that might compliment the radiation data we’d begun publishing a year earlier. However, where radiation monitoring benefits from longstanding agreements on how and what to measure, air quality measurement standards were still actively being debated. Over the following years Safecast produced a number of prototypes to begin looking at the data and thinking about what we could best contribute to an increasingly crowded arena. As it became increasingly clear that particulate matter was the most important thing to look at for both health and environment, as well as the best understood method of measurement, we focused our attention on that and tried to offer some best practices that we’d learned through our radiation measurement efforts. In 2017 we deployed our first generation Air Quality sensors in Los Angeles and we’re currently finishing up production on our next generation solar powered and cellular connected air monitoring devices (a compliment to the Solarcast Nano) which we’ll be deploying and talking more about very soon. Additionally, along with several other organizations we helped to develop the Air Quality Data Commons as …

Another Russian Radiation Coverup

Image above: Satellite imagery from PlanetLabs analyzed by researchers at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation studies. UPDATED on Aug 19, 2019. A couple of weeks ago, at the end of July, an interesting paper was released which describes a massive multi-national research effort to determine the location and cause of the mysterious release of radioactive Ruthenium-106 in Eurasia in late September 2017. The paper, titled “Airborne concentrations and chemical considerations of radioactive ruthenium from an undeclared major nuclear release in 2017,” describes it as, “A massive atmospheric release of radioactive 106Ru ….which must have been caused by a sizeable, yet undeclared nuclear accident.” As we noted when we blogged about the incident here and here in November, 2017, several European national radiation labs quickly zeroed in on the Mayak nuclear complex in the Southern Urals region of Russia as the most likely culprit. But both the Russian government and ROSATOM, the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, strenuously denied the possibility. Back in November 2017 we noted, “…no-one, neither a government regulator, nor a nuclear facility operator, nor a whistleblower, has yet come forward to own up to the accident.” This is still the case. After almost two years no-one has owned up to it yet, which is stunning, brazen, and extremely indicative. At the time we also noted an energetic attempt by Russian state-controlled media and industry mouthpieces to discredit the European laboratories that had provided the strongest evidence of Russian responsibility, using the tools of misinformation to misrepresent IAEA statements on the issue. We then learned of attempts by a Rosatom PR agency to enlist European researchers in denouncing as “alarmist and misleading” attempts to blame Russia or Rosatom for the Ru-106 release, and claiming no knowledge whatsoever of where the isotope came from. The letter never subsequently …

Fukushima cesium-enriched microparticle (CsMP) update

Image above: Secondary electron images from Utsunomiya et al. 2019, of CsMPs discovered in atmospheric particles trapped on a Tokyo air filter from March 15, 2011, with major constituent elements displayed.  An interesting paper  was recently published by a team headed by Dr. Satoshi Utsunomiya of Kyushu University on the subject of Fukushima-derived cesium-enriched microparticles (CsMPs). As many readers will know, several researchers have located and analyzed these microparticles, in which the cesium is often bonded within glass-like silicates and therefore generally significantly less soluble than other Cs chemical species in water, though technically not actually “insoluble.” After an accident like Fukushima, it is much more common to find cesium in water-soluble compounds like cesium hydroxide (CsOH), and predictions about how quickly the cesium will be dispersed through the environment, in soil, in watersheds, taken up by plants and animals, etc, are based primarily on this assumption. The discovery of sparingly-soluble Fukushima-derived cesium microparticles, first documented by Adachi et al in 2013, and since then confirmed by many others, has raised a number of questions. How abundant are they? Does their presence increase health risk to humans? How much do they reveal about the process of the accident itself? From the standpoint of researchers the microparticles are very intriguing. Utsunomiya et al.’s paper is titled “Caesium fallout in Tokyo on 15th March, 2011 is dominated by highly radioactive, caesium-rich microparticles,” and as noted in a recent Scientific American article, it was originally accepted for publication in 2017 by Scientific Reports journal. Weeks before publication, however, Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute (TIRI), operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, raised objections with Scientific Reports. However no questions about the quality of the science or the validity of the paper’s findings appear to have been brought forward. This in itself was highly …

Lessons From A Record-setting Pacific Crossing With Safecast On Board

Douglas Smith and Mitsuhiro Iwamoto joined forces on a record-setting non-stop voyage across the Pacific Ocean. A Safecast bGeigie was also onboard. For 54 days, Douglas Smith was what he jokingly refers to as ‘Seeing Eye Doug.’ That’s how long it took for him and co-sailor Mitsuhiro Iwamoto to cross the approximately 8,700 miles (14,000 kilometers) of Pacific Ocean between San Diego, USA, and Fukushima in Japan in a sailboat. The trip was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Mitsuhiro Iwamoto is visually impaired. During the trip, Iwamoto steered the ship while Douglas, among other things, gave verbal guidance, advised on wind directions, and alerted him to potential dangers. The feat has been hailed as the first time a visually impaired or blind sailor has completed the Pacific crossing in one go without stopping. The two adventurers were raising money for charity, including Safecast, and we couldn’t let such an opportunity for data gathering go to waste, so a bGeigie was onboard for the journey. Below is Douglas’ experience of the trip in his own words, as he recounted it to me. Crossing the Pacific “We didn’t have any life-threatening moments on the trip, although the beginning and end were a lot different than expected. The trip was expected to take 60 days, and we set sail in perfect conditions. After the first day, the winds died down, and we had to strike south from San Diego toward Baja for six or seven days before we found favorable winds.  It took a week or more after that to catch the trade winds that were to carry us across the Pacific. From there it was relatively smooth sailing until we got close to Japan where we encountered low-pressure fronts with gales and strong currents that made it a …

Chernobyl then and now

Above: Scene from HBO’s “Chernobyl” miniseries Lots of people have been riveted to HBO’s five-part “Chernobyl” miniseries, whose fourth episode just aired. Hailed as totally essential, the program is engrossing and hard-hitting, with writing by Craig Mazin and direction by Johan Renck building a steadily creeping unease. The cast is great, and the accuracy of the historical details, from uniforms to telephones to flashlights, has amazed even Russian viewers. The story is, so far, extremely accurate, including in its graphic depiction of the ravaging effects of Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), suffered by the many onsite workers and first responders sacrificed in the effort to mitigate the disaster. Our expert advice is not to plan on eating anything that contains melted cheese while watching the show, or anytime afterwards. There’s also a superb companion podcast which provides more historical background and describes issues encountered during the production of each episode. The popularity of the series has naturally led to increased interest regarding the contamination in the area today, just over 30 years later. At Safecast, we’re fortunate to have received data from many volunteers who have visited the Chernobyl site and surrounding areas, almost annually since 2012. If you’re curious to know more about the current radiation levels there our maps can tell you a lot. The data has come from journalists, like Daisuke Tsuda (NeoLogue), who visited in 2013 carrying a prototype bGeigie Nano, and German science media figure Ranga Yogeshwar, who visited in Feb. 2016. It also includes researchers like Tim Mousseau, who visits regularly in the course of his work monitoring wildlife, and staff from the National Radiation Protection Institute of the Czech Republic (SURO) who do the same. A number of other individuals have visited the site with a Safecast bGeigie, measured and pushed their data as …

Citizen Science Meetup

Above: Citizens in Santa Cruz, Calif., collect water samples for the Our Radioactive Ocean project. (Credit: WHOI) Safecast has been fortunate to have meaningful outreach to the wider citizen science community in Japan and abroad. Last December we were invited to a meeting in Hong Kong of over 30 Asia-based citizen science groups, hosted by National Geographic. One outcome of this has been a good mutually supportive relationship between Safecast and Citizen Science.Asia , particularly through their Japan Ambassador Emu-Felicitas Miyashita. On Sunday, March 24, we’re joining forces to mark the 8th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster by highlighting a wide range of Japan-related citizen science activity. The event will feature presentations about several intriguing citizen science projects as well as hands-on time so attendees can familiarize themselves with the techniques these groups use. It’s free and open to the public and we hope everyone can attend. Title : Mizu, Mapping, Micro: Citizen Science in Japan Today Co-organized by Safecast and Citizen Science.Asia Date : Sunday, March 24, 2019 Time : 15:00 – 18:00  Location: Loftwork COOOP 10  Dogenzaka Pia 10F, 1-22-7 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo-to, Japan, 150-0043  MAP HERE SPEAKERS: — Azby Brown, Safecast — Emu Felicitas-Miyashita, Citizen Science.Asia  — Dr. Ken Buesseler, WHOI — Featured speaker. Dr. Buesseler is a marine radiochemist who leads the Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He has been monitoring ocean radiation since before the Fukushima disaster, and established the “Our Radioactive Ocean” project which crowdsources ocean water sample collection to monitor post-Fukushima ocean radiation on the Pacific coast of North America.  See his recent article about the impact of citizen science at Scientific American. http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org — Mr. Nagayama Kuniaki, Life is Small — 3d-printed Digital Microsope attachment for smartphones   http://lis-co.co.jp/  — Mr. Sayama Kouichi,  Mizu to Midori no Kenkyuukai …