I’ve been following Safecast ever since they started working on their DIY solutions for measuring radiation when the Fukushima disaster hit. I happened to catch a post recently on Los Angeles Times about their ongoing efforts, and needless to say, they have a lot more units out in the field taking readings and they have an office acting like a makerspace, where they teach citizens how to build radiation monitors. If you haven’t ever checked out radiation detecting, you should know it is notoriously expensive, and even if you have a device, you need to monitor for months to understand what the background radiation levels are for an area in order to be effective. That’s where Safecast comes in; their organization not only offers affordable options, but they empower citizens to collect data and share it. Here’s an example of their bGeigieNano kit with its main board and OLED display, GPS, Arduino Fio, pancake sensor and iRover in a neat little Pelican case. I spy some Adafruit parts here!
One man, Kohei Matsushita, was visiting Safecast to learn how to build a kit.
“My family has a house near a nuclear power plant,” Matsushita said, explaining his motivation. “I want to take this there and collect data, and contribute to this pool of information.”
Safecast states up front that they have no interest in taking sides on nuclear power. They are merely interested in providing the most accurate data possible using open source tech, so that people are encouraged to seek their own truth. Thanks to the data, residents are learning which areas are safe for return.
“They want people to come back, but there’s no decontamination in the forest areas and those cover 75% of this village,” says retired engineer Nobuyoshi Ito, 72, who in 2010 opened an eco-farm retreat in Iitate, about 20 miles northwest of the nuclear power plant. Recently, he had Safecast install a radiation monitor at the retreat, which is still in a restricted zone. “We have to check ourselves.”
The organization is very dedicated to capturing data, and recently did some monitoring from their cars in France and Iceland (bluetooth allows info to be sent to a phone). It’s proving helpful in looking at natural radiation from mining and other hazards that already exist in these countries in order to help establish their baselines. Other people are taking monitors on board planes to check radiation levels as they travel. We live in a time where radiation is around us, whether naturally, medically, through power generation or electronics. So, it is wise to learn more about it in order to make the best decisions for all life forms. Thanks to Julie Makinen for her coverage of this story and for those of you who want to learn more about radiation levels, check out our Geiger Counter Kit. This is a great first look for learning, but if you are serious about levels, you’ll want to invest in something more accurate like those at Safecast. As I often say with citizen science, strength can often be found in numbers—that is why open source is so powerful.