Safecast devices used for first readings inside a US nuclear plant

Safecast-collaborators from the NGO Residents Organized for a Safe Environment (ROSE) recently used a bGeigie Nano when visiting the site of the San Onofre nuclear plant in California (you can see the measurements here). It was the first time that Safecast’s devices have been used to make measurements inside a US nuclear facility.   The group, which also hosts a Solarcast, has been volunteering with Safecast for a while now, and their strong, local efforts combined with Safecast’s reputation and standing could lead to several Solarcasts finding a more permanent home on the grounds of the San Onofre Plant. “Our collaboration has the potential to lead to the creation of the first monitoring system of its kind in the US, which would be really exciting, and show the value of local groups having open, accessible tools to work with, rather than having to rely solely on equipment and measurements from companies and government organisations,” Sean Bonner of Safecast says. Potential real-time monitoring system ROSE is looking to use Solarcast Nano-devices as a permanent first-alert system for the San Onofre, nuclear waste dump. The plan is to place the Solarcast Nanos close to the heat vents of the 72 Holtex and 51 Areva canisters at San Onofre. This would enable better monitoring of the canisters and a quicker response in case of leakage. “If the CPM numbers measured at the vent stay stable over a given period, that would indicate that there were no leaks. However, if this same canister’s numbers moved up significantly for an extended period, that would be an indication that a leak had begun. Some of those cans – which is probably a more correct way of describing them – are already 15 years old,” Gene Stone of ROSE, says. He also notes that while South Californian …

PART 2: Radioactive water at Fukushima Daiichi: What should be done?

Photo: Kyodo/Reuters (Part 1 here)                (Related Japan Times article here) DOES THE PUBLIC HAVE A SAY? For their part, representatives of the government and TEPCO I have spoken with invariably stress how important it is to them to reach understand and agreement with all stakeholders, the Fukushima fisheries coops in particular, and to respond to their concerns in the decision-making process. They say they are fully prepared to accommodate the fishermen’s desires regarding the quantity and timing of releases, how they will be monitored, and how to adjust the release parameters in response to what is found after the system begins operation. And although when I point out that concern is not limited to fishermen in Fukushima, but that coops in Miyagi and Iwate, as well as Ibaragi and Chiba also consider themselves stakeholders, and that in fact residents internationally along the entire Pacific rim have already expressed concern, officials voice agreement but cannot point to any concrete efforts to communicate with or include anyone outside of Fukushima or the Tokyo power centers. In the same way, the concerns of major food distributors such as supermarket chains, who ultimately make the decision whether or not to purchase and sell Fukushima marine products nationwide, do not seem to be being addressed. Shuji Okuda, METI’s Director for Decommissioning and Contaminated Water Management, Nuclear Accident Response Office, Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, stressed that no decision has yet been made which of the five options for dealing with the tritiated water detailed in the 2016 Task Force report will be chosen. In other words, although TEPCO, government ministries, and stakeholders are proceeding as if it’s a done deal, no-one with decision-making power has yet made a decision. “It will be a decision of the Japanese Government as a whole,” Okuda explains, “not one …

PART 1: Radioactive water at Fukushima Daiichi: What should be done?

Photo: Safecast An shorter article on the same subject was recently published in the Japan Times; this blog post provides more technical detail and sources of information. 850,000 TONS Of all the conflicts and consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP disaster, the contaminated water issue is one of the most complicated, contentious, and potentially long-term. It’s a multifaceted problem ultimately rooted in the influx of groundwater into the damaged reactor buildings. A large volume of water is pumped into and out of the damaged reactors each day to keep them cool. This is treated to remove salt and most radionuclides and recirculated back into the reactors. If there were no additional water leaking into the reactor basements, this could function as an essentially closed loop. But a volume equal to the additional groundwater inflow needs to be removed from recirculation. It too is treated to remove all radionuclides except tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen known as H-3, and is being stored in the now familiar rows of tanks onsite at Daiichi. A partially effective underground dam of frozen earth, together with a system of subdrain pumps, has reduced the volume necessary to be removed from about 400 cubic meters per day to about 150-200 cubic meters (though appreciably more when it rains heavily). About 850 large tanks now hold 850,000 tons of tritiated water, and TEPCO says that it will run out of space to store additional water onsite by 2020, so something must be done soon. As far back as 2014, the IAEA recommended a controlled release of this water to the ocean as the safest course of action, and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) has made similar recommendations. A Tritiated Water Task Force convened by METI in 2013 examined five options in detail, including evaporating it and …

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 …