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, …

Safecast sensors and local volunteers document effect of SoCal brush fires

Safecast has two Solarcast Air Quality devices located close to the area in Southern California hit by brush fires this week. Local volunteer Meeno Peluce also photo documented the fires in Montecito Heights in LA, near a Solarcast sensor that he hosts.   The location of this sensor can be seen in the lower right below: And this graph shows the air returning to normal very quickly after the fires were put out. You can explore the data yourself on the Safecast map. Luckily only brush was burned and nearby homes were spared. A little further west in Goleta people weren’t so lucky: The readings from the Safecast Solarcast sensor in Goleta can be found on the Safecast Map here. This area is currently evacuated but the sensor is still reporting in which we hope is a good sign for the neighborhood where it’s placed. Bush fires have hit several places in the last few days. One has torn through an area on the border between California and Oregon. According to ABC News, the fires have killed at least one person and torched hundreds of homes. In the hills around Goleta, located in Santa Barbara County, at least 20 homes have burned since the fire began on Friday night local time. We’ll be looking further at the air sensor data we’re getting from these sensors and others near by and report back if we find more.

Safecast bGeigieNanoKit V1.4.1 features

 Introduction: Firmware V1.4.1 for the bGeigieNano is available now at A 5-second hotspot reading feature has been added. This should be especially useful for finding out exactly where the radiation is highest in a given area, and for finding the source. A video about the added functionality can be found at It has been a while since Safecast released an update for the firmware of bGeigieNano. The main challenge when creating patches/added functionality is the limited memory space of the FIO hardware. How to update your bGeigie Nano:     Mac: 1. Application for Mac (easiest). Download and run this app, which is a self-contained installer that contains the new firmware package: Connect the FTDI connector to the bGeigieNano. (Remove the BLE module, if used, from the Xbee socket) Press the flash button (check exact operation of button) 2. Source code and compilation method: Get code from Github Setup compiler environment as described at under “Build process” Run “make” , connect the bGeigieNano and run “make upload”     Windows: Hex file download and use UploaderX Download the hex file from: Download the UploaderX program from: Connect the FTDI connector to the bGeigieNano. (Remove the BLE module, if used, from the Xbee socket) Run the program and configure it with your COM port. Also, make sure that the Baud Rate is set to 115200. Select the Hex file from the location where you saved it before in step 1 above. Click “Upload” to transfer the hex file to the bGeigieNano. How to Setup the Alarm level: Shut down the bGeigieNano and take out the SDCARD. Edit the SD card SAFECAST.TXT and change the alm=XXX settings to set the CPM count/trigger level.  Power on the bGeigieNano. Display changes: If the bGeigieNano is in normal logging mode you …

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 …