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Citizen Radiation Monitoring in Japan: Safecast
- Joe Moross (Radiation and environmental sensor engineer)
- Azby Brown (Member of SAFECAST and Director of the KIT Future Design Institute in Tokyo)
SAFECAST, a non-ideological, non-profit, volunteer-based organization created in the days immediately following the events of March 11, 2011, has become one of the most prominent and reliable independent sources for radiation data in Japan and abroad. In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, concerns about radiation exposure continue to fester, with low public confidence in government and industry statements that the nuclear fallout does not pose a significant risk to public health. Despite highly-publicized official medical and scientific findings that suggest that future health risks will be low, the general public remains worried about the impact of long-term exposure, and lacking faith in government reassurances, have increasingly turned to alternative sources of information like SAFECAST.
Until recently, radiation measurement on a large scale has presented high technical, financial, and political barriers to entry. In an attempt to fill the acute information vacuum about the severity of the fallout, SAFECAST quickly began to field mobile detectors of its own design, which leveraged open-source software and hardware and new-generation DIY tools such as laser cutters and custom PCB fabrication to dramatically accelerate development and deployment time. The group simultaneously developed an information management system that allows GPS-tagged radiation data points to be uploaded into a central database and displayed on an interactive web-based map. SAFECAST’s radiation information system has seen the rapid deployment no fewer than seven increasingly refined GPS-enabled mobile radiation detector designs, called “bGeigies,” the web-based “GeoSense” map, a free iOS-based map application, and other devices and software, all developed by volunteers and made freely available through Creative Commons licenses.
The radiation data gathered by SAFECAST volunteers in Japan and abroad currently exceeds 15 million data points, arguably the most extensive public data set of its kind. It was soon hailed as a technically competent, credible, and objective source of radiation information for Japan by specialists on both sides of the nuclear power debate. Though relations between third-party monitoring groups and government and official regulatory bodies is generally characterized by mutual distrust, SAFECAST’s input has increasingly been sought by both local governments in Japan and regulatory agencies abroad, a tacit admission of the inadequacy of official efforts. The group was recently invited to share their methodology and their criticisms at the IAEA’s International Experts Meeting on Radiation Protection after the Fukushima Daiichi Accident in Vienna.
For this event, a panel of Safecast volunteers will discuss the state of radiation monitoring and communication three years after the start of the Fukushima disaster, describe the challenges they have faced in cultivating and maintaining an active and independent global network of volunteers, and report on the reception their critique received from the IAEA.
SAFECAST Website: http://blog.safecast.org/about/
Radiation and environmental sensor engineer
Joe Moross is a Tokyo-based radiation and environmental sensor engineer, and was formerly senior engineer in charge of radiation safety for the linear accelerator facility of the National Institute for Research in Inorganic Materials in Tsukuba.
Member of SAFECAST and Director of the KIT Future Design Institute in Tokyo
Azby Brown is a member of SAFECAST, who concentrates on collating and summarizing research findings concerning health, the environment, and social issues related to the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. In this role he has initiated ongoing dialogues and information-sharing with experts such as Dr. Buessler. In his day job, Azby is the director of the KIT Future Design Institute in Tokyo.
SAFECAST (www.safecast.org), is a non-partisan, non-profit, volunteer-based organization created in the days immediately following the events of March 11, 2011. The group has become one of the most prominent and reliable independent sources for radiation data in Japan and abroad, and a leading example of the potential for citizen science to tackle even difficult technical problems. The SAFECAST data-collection system allows GPS-tagged radiation data points to be uploaded into a central database and displayed on an interactive web-based map. All of the group’s hardware ad software is developed by volunteers and is made freely available through open source licenses. The radiation data gathered by SAFECAST volunteers in Japan and abroad currently exceeds 35 million data points, arguably the most extensive public data set of its kind.