Editor's note: To add context to the following story, please read "Forget ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ time to ‘Abandon Fukushima.’"
YOKOHAMA – Radiation is something you cannot smell or see. Unless you have your own Geiger counter, you can’t hear it, either. But that isn’t stopping the Japanese — probably the most radiation-conscious people in the world these days — from figuring out a way to “sniff it out.”
So, inevitably, Japan’s Embedded Technology conference here this week offered a variety of affordable personal radiation monitoring devices.
Michihiro Imaoka, a hardware designer running his own design house called Imaoca Engineering Office, has devised a home-made personal Geiger counter, called “Imaocande,” connected with an Android-based smartphone. It’s designed to crowd-source and tweet the collected Geiger-data to the cloud.
For its handheld personal Geiger counter, Imaoka’s company is using a second-hand Geiger-Mueller tube, bought on eBay from Red Army surplus in Russia. The real meat of his development lies in creating a system to connect it to an Android smartphone via the audio interface. By using GPS, CPU and connectivity functions already available in the smartphone, it’s possible to “tweet” the radiation data (detected level, time and longitude/latitude) collected by the Imaocande. The tweeted data can then be shared with masses, once it is mapped into a radiation map using another piece of software.
Michihiro Imaoka listens to audio pulse generated by his personal Geiger counter as he brings closer to the device a small packet of radiated soil he brought back from Fukushima
Imaoka has been sharing the information on how to build the Imaocande by offering classes throughout Japan. “I think that there are close to 100 units of Imaocande out there.”
Asked if the accuracy of a patchwork Geiger counter might be a concern, Imaoka said, “This is meant to be an affordable personal device, allowing people to sense whether where they stand now is radioactive.”
Imaoka, however, added that one can correlate data gathered by such personal Geiger counters with information released by the Japan Space Weather Information Center
, using Cloud services.
“It can help improve the reliability of the collected data.” Imaoka stressed, “What’s important here is that this can offer consumers a means of gathering information without being solely dependent upon the government or big businesses [like Tokyo Electric Power Co.]”
Imaoka estimated the bill of materials for Imaocande is less than 5,000 yen ($65). “The most expensive part is a Geiger-Mueller tube – which is about $50.”
In a more conventional (corporate) vein, CA Limited
, a Fukushima-based embedded system and software development company, showed off several models of personal radiation monitoring systems featuring different connectivity technologies at the Embedded Technology show. Connectivity used between the company’s personal Geiger counter and a PC and/or a smartphone ranges from Bluetooth, Ethernet, USB to pulse audio and color LCD.
A variety of personal Geiger counters developed by CA Limited, a Fukushima-based company
Katsuhiko Terawaki, CA’s president, developed the system. In his company’s booth, he demonstrated his systems by using a packet of radiated soil (which he collected from his home, located within 65 kilometers of the now-infamous Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant).
Terawaki did not mince words about how he feels Japanese government and Japanese society has maintained a fallacy of “radiation safety”
– even to this date.
Terasaki cited last weekend’s East Japan Women’s “Ekiden,” a long-distance relay running race that required female athletes to run through the radiation hot zone in Fukushima city. Terasaki called the event “nothing but an act of lunacy.”
At the end of March, Terasaki himself evacuated from his home to Yamagata, a nearby prefecture. But he commutes to his company, still based in Fukushima. He acknowledged, “At first, I was afraid to tell other people that I abandoned my home in Fukushima. But lately, I’ve been straight with them. While I can’t force people to evacuate, I no longer hesitate to express my own opinion.”
Terasaki pointed out that there are large, standalone radiation monitoring systems – such as one developed by two other Fukushima-based companies, Kaine and NR. Equipped with a solar panel to generate power and a large LED display to show the radiation level in micro-Sieverts per hour, these systems can be installed in public designated locations and cost about a million yen ($13,000). But such systems monitor certain public spaces only. Both Imaoka and Terasaki believe that there are a number of micro hotspots, previously gone unnoticed or not likely to be discovered in the future by such public radiation monitoring equipment.
Terasaki said, “People want their own personal radiation monitoring system.” He was speaking from experience, recalling March 15th (four days after the tsunami) when he heard, inside his house, a Geiger counter he had bought years ago, pulsing and beeping at a rate of 60 beeps a minute.