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Safecast helps Japanese people to learn about radiation

Even if nuclear science and the impact of a nuclear meltdown on human health were simple to understand (and they are not), there is still the rather uneasy fact of dealing with a daily foe: invisible, odourless radiation.

 Working with Safecast , which crowdsources radiation readings gathered by volunteers, and combines it with data from other outfits to give a clearer picture of what’s going on, Saito wanted people to be able to determine what was safe for them based on fact, not paranoia or nuclear industry propaganda.

Japan’s radiation: Ignorance isn’t bliss Feeling that officials aren’t doing enough, everyone, farmer to housewife, is learning about radiation contamination. Aljazeera, D. Parvaz  10 Mar 2012  Iitate Village, Japan – Second-generation farmer Muneo Kano has not been able to tend to his cattle or grow crops since the Daiichi nuclear power plant contaminated land, air and sea after being damaged by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

He had his 11 cows scanned for radiation and sold them to another farm outside the radiation area. Kano’s own seven-hectare farm is 45km from the nuclear site, and the soil has been deemed too contaminated for farming.
And Kano has had to learn all about radiation and soil fast – he now tracks and maps radiation dips and spikes on an iPad, and has a series of maps he consults to check what authorities say about farms in the area.

Soil samples tested in Iitate still contain ten times the acceptable levels of the radioactive isotope Caesium-137 for agricultural soil, and the government has yet to remove the top layers of contaminated soil and wash the streets….

While the Japanese government is making efforts to neutralise fears of radiation contamination, there are a couple of cold, hard facts it can’t overcome.

First, there is little in the way of data showing how the levels of radiation seeping out of earthquake and tsunami damaged plant (operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO) will affect the local population in the long run.

Second, radiation levels aren’t the sort of thing that hold steady – they change with the wind, with accumulations of snow or dust. Scooping up contaminated dirt, bagging it and burying it (the current plan) doesn’t make it disappear, nor does washing the roads in evacuated zones, as that water – and the radioactive dust – finds its ways into gutters and onto sidewalks.

“They shouldn’t build things they can’t control,” said Kano.

Fear of a faulty plant

Indeed, control is in short supply in these parts, and it’s hard to keep up with the worrying news that comes at people on an almost daily basis.

There was the report  saying that things were so unstable at the nuclear plant that the government was on the cusp of having to hatch a plan to evacuate 30 million people; a report by the Japan Meteorological Agency recently announced that there were 10,000 more quakes this year – that’s eight times more than the previous year, and, this week, local media reported that some of the thermometers used to make sure water in the plants stayed below boiling point were broken.

Additionally, the problematic reactors at the Daiichi plant have not entirely been dealt with. There are thousands of barrels of contaminated water  being stored on the plant’s site, and the (some say unrealistically short) timeline to decommission it stands at 40 years……

The agony of uncertainty

Even if nuclear science and the impact of a nuclear meltdown on human health were simple to understand (and they are not), there is still the rather uneasy fact of dealing with a daily foe: invisible, odourless radiation.

This leaves the population to cling to numbers - how many millisieverts of radiation (mSv) can they be exposed to per year? How many Becquerels per kg of food can they take in, how much have they had for the day?

Where Becquerel counters are expensive and hard to come by - although some community groups share one, as do farmers’ markets - Geiger counters are cheaper and a must-have gadget in the affected areas, where radioactive “hot spots” are easily found.

With a push of a button, one can find out how much radiation one is being exposed to at that moment, and, if one were to remain at that level of exposure, how that would accumulate in a week or a year.

For now, the national limit for additional radiation exposure (on top of natural background radiation) is five mSv per year for adults and one mSv per year for children. Kano’s farm registered between 18 and 24 mSv per year – depending on where it was measured.



And a lot of people are measuring radiation these days…..

Working with Safecast , which crowdsources radiation readings gathered by volunteers, and combines it with data from other outfits to give a clearer picture of what’s going on, Saito wanted people to be able to determine what was safe for them based on fact, not paranoia or nuclear industry propaganda.

“This will help them micro-manage their lives, to be able to know which places are safe and which are not,” said Saito, who first showed Al Jazeera a prototype of the handheld Geiger counter six months ago.

Saito has his children carry them - the local governments also provide radiation meters, but they have no display. The data from the readers is collected, and if a child shows high exposure to radiation, he or she is called in for a full body scan - for which there is a long waiting list.

While each government office provides radiation data, they only use their own meters and readings.

“The government provides data, but it’s a little bit rough and they tend to collect data from the locations they’ve recently cleaned,” said Saito.

It seems if people can’t control how much radiation they’re exposed to, they at least want to know how much they have been exposed to, let alone what the consequences might be….. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/03/2012310182231790693.html

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March 12, 2012 - Posted by | Japan, psychology - mental health

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