TT-612 -- Citizens' Radiation Monitoring Network, e-biz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, May 01, 2011, Issue No. 612


- What's New -- Citizens' Radiation Monitoring Network
- News -- Tough times if you like Natto
- Candidate Roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback -- international school student
numbers vs. Japanese school numbers
- News Credits

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In Terrie's Take 610 two weeks ago, we mentioned the
emergence of a citizen's mobile radiation monitoring group
called We appealed for drivers and others to help
them map radiation levels around the Daiichi Power Plant
disaster area to the north of Tokyo -- well, those areas
which are still legally accessible anyway.

With the advent of the Internet, it's amazing how quickly a
new idea catches on, and at the moment the RDTN group, now
renamed as SafeCast and with a website at,
are on the verge of fame for several reasons: both of which
are really interesting.

First, the SafeCast team, made up of folks both in Tokyo
and in the USA, put together a project on a venture funding
website we'd not heard of before, called Kickstarter
( There isn't anything like Kickstarter in
Japan, although there should be. Essentially it is for very
early stage start-up promoters to raise their first round
of cash. Donors ("Investors"?) don't get shares, a process
that would quickly bog down both the donors and recipients
in paperwork and processes. Instead, the idea promoters
provide incentives to the donors as an alternative to
shares. You can see the project at:

Of course with a model like this, you can't normally expect
donations of more than US$20-US$100 per person, but given
the popularity of the site, some of the projects are
getting more than one thousand people putting cash in.
Indeed, with little more than a Fukushima-bound mission and
a prototype home-built Geiger counter/mapping system
(nicknamed the "iGeigie" because it uses an iPhone for
uploads), the SafeCast team have been able to raise a
surprising US$34,000 from 576 donors (as of Sunday night)
in just 2 weeks. They still have 6 days to go, and are
hoping to bring in more, so that they can increase the
number of iGeigie's that they will have out in the hands of
citizen monitors.

[Continued below...]

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The second major point of interest about SafeCast is what
they have found. As we all know, the government has been
touting the fact that apart from a tense couple of weeks
shortly after the quake, the air around but outside the
20km exclusion zone from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant
has been relatively low in radiation and that people should
not be concerned. As of the end of April, the Ministry of
Science, MEXT, started making radiation monitoring data
publicly available, and most of the monitoring points more
than 40km away (West of the power plant) are showing levels
of under 2-3 microSieverts (μSv) per hour. For sure, there
are a couple of locations that are a lot higher, at around
20μSv/hr, but these are exceptions.

Well, SafeCast's first venture into the Fukushima area
several weeks ago confirmed that air levels are indeed low,
with the highest readings on their route being around
Koriyama, about 60km from the Daiichi plant and measuring
around 1μSv/hr~2μSv/hr. But the problem is that radiation
does not just exist in the air. Instead, radioactive
particles tend to stick to the ground and persist,
particularly on hard surfaces. And this is exactly what the
SafeCast folks found. It seems that the government doesn't
seem to be particularly aware of the threat of ground-based
hot spots. The following is a note we received from
SafeCast a couple of days ago:

"It was on our first trip to Koriyama that we measured a
hotspot on a playground at a kindergarten in excess of
50 µSv/hr. On that trip we documented numerous elevated
readings in the 20-30 µSv/hr range but 50 µSv/hr definitely
made us take note. For reference the levels we’ve been
detecting in Tokyo rarely go above 1 µSv/hr right now. As
none of us are medical professionals or radiation
scientists we don’t want to make any claims about what is
safe or what isn’t safe, simply that a level more than 50X
higher than normal in a playground where children are
playing is probably something worth noting."

More about that first trip can be found here, scroll down
to see the video of the high reading. The background
crackling noise you can hear is the Geiger counter:

To put the kindergarten reading into perspective,
pre-earthquake nuclear workers had an exposure limit of
100 mSv/yr and the dose limit for normal person is
1 mSv/yr. 50µSv/hr is equivalent to annual dosage of
438 mSv (although the kids at the kindergarten would not
be in proximity the whole time), which is more than four
times the pre-March 11 limit for nuclear workers. Given
that kids, and especially toddlers who would be both
in close proximity to hard surfaces in a kindergarten and
whose growing bodies are more susceptible to the effects
of radiation, this finding is quite disturbing.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that in the last couple
of days, a senior science adviser to the government
resigned after a spat over radiation safety limits for
schools in Fukushima. The adviser, Todai Professor Toshiso
Kosako, argued that the government's radiation safety
standards for elementary schools are inappropriate. The
government spokesperson, Yukio Edano responded by saying
the safety standard doesn't mean children in the area will
face an annual radiation level of 20 millisieverts, just
that this will be the limit.

Well, if only the kids were getting just 20mSv...! However,
as SafeCast is demonstrating, if they are out in a
playground with a hot spot for 2-3 hours a day,
they could be getting double or triple this limit. As a
result, it will be interesting to see the government's
reaction once there are more ground measurements being
conducted by SafeCast and its growing band of citizen
radiation monitors...


In case you are wondering who SafeCast is, here is a self
introduction (slightly abridged) that they sent us:

"A few days after the 3/11 earthquake and resulting
radiation issues with the Fukushima Daiichi reactor a group
of web professionals in Portland, Oregon, USA at a company
called Uncorked Studios realized that the data that was
being released was scattered and obtuse. They decided to
create a site that aggregated measurements that were being
released by different agencies into one map to try and
paint a better picture of what was going on. At the same
time, I (Sean Bonner, Los Angeles) was in active
discussions with Joi Ito (Chiba & Dubai) and Pieter Franken
(Tokyo) about getting Geiger counters into the hands of our
friends and families in Japan so they could see exactly
what was happening at their houses.

We decided to combine our efforts - collecting published
radiation readings and combining those with measurements we
were taking ourselves with distributed sensor devices. As
we looked at the map it became obvious there were some
serious holes in the coverage and the project took on a
larger scope - not just getting Geiger counters to our
friends, but to people all across the country to fill in
the gaps and create an open sensor data network that will
provide information to anyone who wants it.

As this data will be crowd sourced from actual residents
and combined with published official feeds, we felt this
would be a more reliable set of data than anything coming
from a single source. We set out to acquire funds and
equipment and were confronted with the fact that supplies
of Geiger counters worldwide had been stretched thin and
the qualities that we wanted simply didn’t exist."

So there you have it. We may be witnessing the birth of a
Japan-wide citizen's radiation monitoring network, and the
folks over at Uncorked have already voiced a desire to see
the network go global. Interesting stuff.


Finally, it is Golden Week this coming week, and so we will
be taking off one of our four weeks a year. Terrie's Take
will be back on Sunday, May 15th. We hope you have a good
break. This one was probably well earned, our's certainly has
been. :-)

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Why is Natto in short supply?
- How much trash in the tsunami zone?
- Government workers to get 10% pay cut
- Molex fraud creates SEC ripples
- March consumer spending falls 8.5%

-> Why is Natto in short supply?

Whether you love or hate natto, there is no denying that
for most Japanese it is a daily staple that is right up
there with bread, rice, and fish. But right now natto is
still in short supply because of packaging problems. The
Nikkei says that one of the leading natto producers, Takano
Foods in Ibaraki, would normally produce around 4.3m packs
a day, but is currently running at 60% capacity due
shortages of polyethylene sealant film and polypropylene
packaging film. These would normally be supplied by
petrochemicals plants in Kashima, but which have been
damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 29, 2011)

-> How much trash in the tsunami zone?

On seeing videos of the massive cleanup going on along the
northeast coast, you can't help but wonder where they are
going to put all the wrecked cars, homes, and other
mountains of trash left after the tsunami. According to The
Japan Research Institute, about 16 normal years of trash,
or about 100m tons, have been created, which now needs to
be sorted and disposed of. The recycling is of course
hampered by the volumes of mud and seawater still
saturating most of the wreckage. ***Ed: We imagine the
recyclers exporting to China are going to be busy --
probably worth some investment in those sorts of firms for
the next few months.** (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 29, 2011)

-> Government workers to get 10% pay cut

In a textbook case of Japanese group thinking, the
government has almost reached a decision to cut the
salaries of all national government workers by 10% --
ranging all the way from diet members down to junior
clerks. Apparently the government rationale is that by
civil servants taking a hit to help contribute to
government financing of the northeastern recovery efforts
it will be easier to then sell a rise in consumption tax to
the general public, for the same purpose. However, while
the move may seem magnanimous, apparently civil servants in
the future will be allowed to form unions and engage in
separate wage negotiations, so it's not clear what will
eventually happen to the cuts. We suspect that they won't
last for long. (Source: TT commentary from May 1, 20011)

-> Molex fraud creates SEC ripples

We reported last April in TT562, that
Molex was victim of a massive fraud by a senior manager in
its finance group, to the tune of US$175m. The fraud case
didn't stop there, given the size and the fact that there
appeared to be insufficient corporate processes to prevent
such a massive deception. As a result, the US Securities
and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now launching an
investigation into the incident. At the same time, Molex is
involved in a court case with Mizuho Bank, over who was
responsible for approving the massive loans despite their
unusual nature. (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 29, 2011)

-> March consumer spending falls 8.5%

Consumer restraint after the March 11 earthquake caused a
record drop in national household spending, with
month-to-month outlays falling by 8.5% from February to
March. Transportation expenditure fell 14.4% and leisure
fell 18.7%. At the same time, the average income of
households dropped 4.1% to JPY421,975/month. (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 28, 2011)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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No events for this coming week.



In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

*** In TT611 we said that life is getting back to normal
and that international school rolls were recovering.

=> Reader:
Interesting that international schools are now just back to
80%. Japanese schools in Tsukuba never stopped and never
slipped below 90~95 %.

The foreign flight ( I still do not understand it) is
causing a man made disaster in the community set up to
serve it.

=> We agree. Further checking leads us to think that the
number of foreign families who will continue living in
Japan will once again drop as the school year ends for
around June-July. Whether they will be replaced by new
arrivals is difficult to say, especially since Japan is
still braced for more aftershocks and Fukushima is still a
major risk.


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It's called 'Kickstarter'

We have corrected it.

The video shows a machine optimized for air measurements (it is calibrated for Cs-137 gamma) being used at surface level. When used at surface level the displayed reading needs to be divided by a factor related to the higher sensitivity of the GM tube to beta radiation. The factor depends on the tube but is likely to be somewhere between 10 and 100. That might explain the readings being higher than the official measurements.

Thanks for pointing this out.

The conversion factor to Bq/m2 (which is regularly used for surface contamination) for the device used in the video is approximately

300 CPM = 11,000 Bq/m2 (or 1uSv = 11,000 Bq/m2 when the Inspector is set to uSv/hr operation)

We can now make this statement as we have reasonably conformed that most contamination is Cs137 in nature, which is a strong beta emitter. With this, the measurements done at ground level can be converted to Bq/m2.