Firsthand from Fukushima: Xeni on The Madeleine Brand Show (radio)

[Photos: iPhone snapshots I took in Japan in August, 2011.]

Today I joined the Madeleine Brand Show (a daily radio news program based in Southern California) to talk with host Alex Cohen about my recent trip to Japan, with PBS NewsHour correspondent Miles O'Brien. I was there working with Miles, who is reporting a series of science and technology stories for PBS NewsHour related to the March 11 quake, tsunami, and ensuing nuclear crisis.

In today's radio two-way, I spoke with Alex about the work of Safecast.org to gather radiation level data throughout the country, and share it online. We drove to Fukushima with the group, learned how they work, and met with local volunteers who were receiving geiger counters and instructions from the Safecast team.

We went inside what was at the time the 30km voluntary evacuation zone, and were 24.4km from the plant at the closest point during our travels. The "hottest" place we stopped showed surface measurements of 800K bequerels, or 20,000 CPM (counts per minute, which accounts for all types of particles decaying per minute; alpha, beta, gamma). At this hotspot, Safecast also detected elevated background levels between 9 and 10 μSv/hr.

Here's how Safecast's Joe Moross explained those background radiation levels to me: a chest X-ray is about 20 μSv, so the policemen we met at a barricade 30km from the nuclear plant were getting roughly the equivalent of a chest x-ray every two hours. Maybe an even better analogy is that they are getting the same radiation on the job as a person would if they got a dental X-ray every 40 minutes.

The surface measurements, to my mind, are even more alarming than what's in the air now, weeks after what we understand to have been the last major release of material from the plant. Fallout falls to the ground, so it's no surprise that this is where the highest concentrations are found. How safe or unsafe all of that is—that's a matter of heated debate. But I would not want to live in those hot spots, and I doubt many Boing Boing readers would, either.

In today's radio segment, we also spoke about lighter matters: the Yoko Ono interview I did in Tokyo for Boing Boing, and what it's like inside a cat café. We'll have a Boing Boing Video episode from the cat café, in the coming weeks!

The PBS NewsHour pieces will be airing soon. I'll blog when there are broadcast dates (and they'll also be online).

Listen here, or download MP3 here.

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  1. Flickr player “steals” my cursor every three seconds under Chrome – even if the slide show is paused – even if BB isn’t the active tab. Anyone else notice this?

    1. Tried downloading FF6, and still having the same problem. Argh! Whenever I want to see a Flash video, I have to go to pluins, enable, watch video, go back to plugins, disable.

      Been like this for months on FF4, 5, and now 6, both at home and on my computer at work.

  2. Is that what it is? I’ve had this problem for eons with multiple versions of Firefox on more than one computer.

    I’ve posted on the Firefox help board, and although lots of people have clicked the also-have-this-problem tab, nobody has posted a solution.

    Disabling Shockwave Flash solves the problem, but it also means you can’t see any Flash video.

    Anyone with a solution?

  3. Cool(kakkoi) to hear some Xeni-goes-to-Japan perspectives! Next time come to our family Organic rice farm in Fukushima-was Organic, now not allowed to farm, though officially outside the exclusion zone by about 2km! Can’t grow anything the land goes wild and rice hoarding forces up prices. Come see the lack of recompense, govt support nor response. Lots of time for art for some none for others, can’t eat art but it can be a part of a cultural revolution.

  4. We went inside what was at the time the 30km voluntary evacuation zone, and were 24.4km from the plant at the closest point during our travels. The “hottest” place we stopped showed surface measurements of 800K bequerels, or 20,000 CPM (counts per minute, which accounts for all types of particles decaying per minute; alpha, beta, gamma). At this hotspot, Safecast also detected elevated background levels between 9 and 10 μSv/hr.

    Err, Xeni… I think I speak for a lot of people in saying while I respect how brave you are, we are going to be really upset if you get the cancer.  Please don’t do that again.

    !!!!! O_o !!!!!

  5. Brief exposure to those levels is like getting a dental or chest x-ray, depending on the location and duration. We considered the measured levels we were exposed to for the time we were there an acceptable a relatively low health risk. We were there for no more than an hour or so, and took a number of precautions.

    As I said in the radio interview, being in a hotspot for an hour is one thing. Living there is another.

  6. I think Miles O’Brien was better on DS9 when he married Keiko Ishikawa and they had a daughter Molly. I’m sure his best friend Dr. Julian Bashir will find a smart and easy way to cure any radiation caused cancers.

  7. Xeni – Thanks for covering Fukushima, it’s not getting the media coverage it deserves. I suspect the US government would react much the same way as the Japanese government has if an accident happened here. One reason I don’t think our political and economic systems are capable of safely dealing with nuclear power.

    P.S. Yoko Ono interview! Wow! Wonderful thing.

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