Quake during RDTN panel discussion in Tokyo

Earlier today at the New Context Conference 2011 Spring, RDTN co-founder Aaron Huslage was on a panel with Joi Ito, Jun Murai, Ray Ozzie and Dan Sythe talking about radiation detection and the efforts of the RDTN team. Halfway through his talk (about 0:29 in this clip) a 5.8 earthquake hit Honshu, Japan and was felt very strongly in the building where the conference was being held. It obviously wasn’t planned, but seemed fitting given the discussion. Everyone was fine, and Aaron recovered from the interruption flawlessly.

First RDTN sensor deployed

Yesterday Pieter gave out a probe set to Dave Kell. Dave is a volunteer driver and is going to go into the area north of Ichinoseki this weekend for 3 days to deliver relief goods for 2nd Harvest, American Club and other charities. He lived for 2 years in Iwate before living in Tokyo and knows the area well. He will use his iphone to take pictures of radiation readings and do the geo tagging/upload. Measurements will be auto posted into Flickr and Twitter. We have also asked him to try do measurement above soil.

A little of what we’ve been up to

All photos by Pieter Franken. Additionally our first probes are out in the field, tweeting updates to @RDTNprobes, and remember we’re raising funds for this project on Kickstarter!

Tokyo These Days

Editor’s Note: Joel M. holds a Ph.D. in Biology and currently resides in Tokyo, Japan. He has volunteered his time and insights to the RDTN.org blog. Right now things are quiet but fine. We are not having many rolling blackouts for now.  Actually, in this whole time, I only had one blackout for 2 hours. Supermarkets have most things,  There is more than enough food.  Just a few things like milk, eggs, bread may sell out in one store, but be available in another. Some bottled beverages, like Coke, may be in short supply, but it is because the bottle cap suppliers can’t manufacture enough right now. (For want of a nail…) Many people are telecommuting.  Good thing they got broadband available more or less everywhere in Japan 12 years ago and have been giving tax breaks for the last 3 years encouraging people to buy a laptop and work from home at least some of the time, so about 20% of people were set up and ready to go. Lots of lights are turned off, so it may seem more deserted than it is.  Inside has been about the same number of customers in some I go to, but of course on the whole business is way off. Aftershocks have progressed from being only 150 miles from Tokyo to being now less than 50, more or less, so I think the stress has clearly been transferred to plates near Tokyo.  People often go home at 5:00 instead of working late in the night because we know we could have another big quake and no one wants to get stuck downtown like the last time. I am continuing my LED campaign, swapping out an LED for people I know to show them what they are.  Every one I do cuts 150 kwh …

Background Information About Radiation and What It Does

What is Radiation? Radiation refers simply to energy moving through space or through matter. There are many different kinds of radiation:  radio waves, heat, visible light, ultraviolet rays, to name just a few. However, usually when people refer to ‘radiation’ they are referring specifically to “ionizing radiation”. This type of radiation has the ability to kick an electron out of a neutral atom or molecule. Now charged instead of neutral, the atom or molecule may behave differently in its local environment.  In addition, the freed electron, which has been given some energy by the incoming radiation, can ionize atoms and molecules as it passes through the material. While radio waves, heat, visible light, ultraviolet rays, and microwaves are examples of non-ionizing forms of radiation, x-rays and gamma-rays have the ability to ionize. Several types of particles emitted by radioactive atoms including alphas, betas and sometimes neutrons also ionize the material through which they travel. Where does Ionizing Radiation come from? 1.  Natural Radiation: The earth contains a large number of different radioactive atoms. Many of these atoms were created in supernova explosions billions of years ago and have been in existence since long before the earth condensed from a gaseous cloud into a solid mass. These atoms are unstable (radioactive) due to the particular forces at play inside the atomic nucleus1. To get to a lower energy configuration the nucleus ‘transmutes’ – it changes into a different nucleus by emitting a small particle (an alpha or beta particle, often accompanied by a gamma ray)2. For instance, Uranium is an extremely common element found in rocks and soil all over the world. All uranium is radioactive; the most common type of Uranium, 238U, has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, about the estimated age of the earth.  [So about half the 238U that was around at the beginning of the earth is …

Potential Causes of Misunderstandings of Fukushima Reactor Problems

Editor’s Note: Joel M. holds a Ph.D. in Biology and currently resides in Tokyo, Japan. He has volunteered his time and insights to the RDTN.org blog. The panic in the media outside Japan, well, I can certainly understand that.  Totally aside of understanding the technical matters involved, I think a lot of the panic is honest misunderstandings due to translation problems. I cannot tell you how complicated translating from Japanese to English, and vice versa, is.  Nearly every single thing is out of order.  “eastnorth” instead of “northeast”.  They count in 10,000s, not 1,000s, so that conversion can lead to errors.  The subject is often omitted so must be supplied.  If directly translated, nuance can be completely off.  There is almost never any kind of correspondence between words in English and Japanese.  For example, I was at the supermarket and there was a sign “We do not exchange money”, which should be “No change without purchase”.  I think that will give you a sense of how nearly every single direct translation is likely to be wrong or misleading in some way.  Translating directly from English into Japanese is even more hilarious. Reading short news articles increases the confusion because of the lack of context.  After watching two hours of NHK documentaries with really detailed models and graphics explaining what was found and where, seeing pictures of the control room damaged like the bridge on Star Trek, and listening to other full explanations, when I see people abroad pick up a word or sentence and misunderstand what it means, panicking everyone, well, that is just not helpful in any way. When this first started, it seemed that even CNN had not one person who understood Japanese because the newscasters were looking at live feeds but didnt know what they were looking at.  Japan was the second, now third, largest economy in the world, with a population of 130,000,000, and I thought that was a little strange that …

Open Dialogue

From the start, we’ve known that a longer-form dialogue would be necessary for this site. We will be using this blog to help bring a bit of context to the site, what the data means and where it is going. We will have guest columns from nuclear experts in an effort to provide valuable analysis to the information. To start, we wanted to offer a bit of background. As we’ve watched the unfathomable footage of the tragedies in Japan unfold, we’ve recognized the critical role reliable information plays in helping people to understand and cope with what’s happened. This site, and the idea behind it, started with fear. In the past week, the world has been inundated with various reports of radiation. Several government agencies were issuing conflicting reports regarding radiation levels in and around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Our hope in launching this site is that clear, reliable data can provide focus on the critical relief efforts needed in Japan. It is not, nor should it be considered, a replacement for official information. This site supplements information by providing several data feeds. We’ve been working day and night to find and integrate new data sources that can help provide reliable data. For the time being, thankfully, it seems that levels are low enough that our friends in Japan can focus on recovery without worrying about increased radiation. In the event that the situation changes, our data will reflect those differences. Since launching on Saturday, we have been inundated with support alongside thoughtful critique. We are thankful for both, and welcome an open dialogue for how to improve the data, functionality and reliability of the site. In an effort to start that dialogue, we wanted to discuss some of the themes that have emerged. Crowdsourcing Though we’re extremely thankful for …

Guest Contribution: A Discussion on Radiation and Radioactive Material

Editor’s Note: Alan Stinchcombe is a retired physics teacher who resides in Suffolk, UK. He is currently collaboratively writing a school textbook on computer science. Radioactive fission or other decay processes occurring in radioactive materials can produce nuclear radiations such as gamma rays and neutrons that have substantial ranges in air.  Industrial or therapeutic exposure to such radiation can occur without any release of radioactive material from its container.  However, the currently raised levels of radiation dose rate in some parts of Japan are the result of environmental pollution by radioactive material following recent damage to several nuclear reactors and spent fuel storage facilities. The New York Times has been careful to distinguish between radioactive material and radiation (see, for example, its article on reactor status).  However, the BBC has been less scientifically literate in its reporting, using less scientifically-accurate terminology in an effort to simplify complex notions such as using the term ‘radiation’ to refer to both radiation and radioactive material.  For example, one BBC report states: ‘Tepco will have to compensate farmers for losses caused by the nuclear radiation leaking from its power plants’. Obviously, the two concepts are intimately related and radiation is the simplest method of detecting the presence of radioactive material. Yet we need to distinguish between radiation as a tell-tale marker of radioactive materials and the damaging dose of radiation that radioactive material can deliver once it contaminates our environment and ultimately finds its way into our bodies. Outside the evacuation zone around a nuclear accident, at a distance of tens or hundreds of kilometres, the intensity of even the most penetrating radiation from the accident is very low.  However, radioactive material ejected into the atmosphere or washed into waterways can travel long distances, although it becomes more and more diluted as it spreads.  A …