Agility, commitment and disaster response

October 14th, 2013  |  Published in Innovation

The triple meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in March 2012 and the release of radioactive material that ensued left a good part of Northern Japan contaminated with unknown amount of radioactivity. A lack of transparency from both the government and the power utility then resulted in a near total lack of information concerning the levels of radiation in the, yet unknown, contaminated areas. As a response, concerned citizens started to take the task upon themselves. However it quickly became clear that handheld measurements wouldn’t scale up to the full magnitude of the area to cover. New means of measuring radiation accurately, quickly and cheaply were needed.

Safecast is a volunteer based organization created following the triple meltdown accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Its goal is to give independent information concerning the radiation levels, first in Japan, but then globally.

Safecast designed an affordable mobile radiation sensor system for independent citizen monitoring and cartography of radioactive contamination. In the past radiation measurement has had a high entry barrier for technical, financial, and political reasons. Today, advances in information technology are a game changer for this field. Volunteers from Tokyo Hackerspace used tools from the DIY revolution (Arduino, cheap PCB fab, laser cutters) to create a versatile mobile radiation measurement device called a bento-Geiger counter, nicknamed bGeigie, a lunchbox sized contraption that is fixed on a car and collect geo-tagged radiation data as the car moves. Safecast leverages the open-source software and hardware paradigm to dramatically accelerate the time taken to develop and deploy the system. The design methodology allowed a prototype of the system to be deployed within a month of the Fukushima disaster. Since then sensors have been driven around by volunteers, covering most of North-East Japan with fine spatial resolution.

Using this system, Safecast were able to cover most of Japan, and also other places worldwide, such as Hong Kong, Seoul, California, etc. The devices are driven around by volunteers in the Fukushima area during their daily activities.

Safecast | Adrian Storey from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

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