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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