Monday, March 19, 2012

Japan, disaster, radiation, and Geiger counters - How to live in Japan?

Al Jazeera posted a fantastic article on the state of Japan. Fukushima was the main point of interest for the article but the sentiments expressed are much wider throughout Japan. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has made huge mistakes, and the government's culpability is unclear. What is clear is that the people are left to fend for themselves for the most part.

Since the power plant is still spewing out radioactive particles into the environment, the situation isn't a simple clean up. They haven't stopped the crisis yet. What this means is radioactive Cesium deposits in the soil where farmers grow their crops, Radioactive particles in the foliage where animals eat their meals, and it all moves up the food chain.

TEPCO has often said the radiation levels are not serious outside of the 20km exclusion zone. This is true if you are only gauging by ambient radiation. Ambient radiation is the radiation that is detected by holding a Geiger counter in the air and getting a reading. What they don't talk about is the tons of radioactive particles that gather with the rain. Take another reading near a storm drain and you will get startlingly different results.

The government has raised the "safe" level of radioactive contamination in food up to 500 becquerels per kilo. This doesn't mean that they suddenly realized that the safe levels were too low, but that if they don't raise the levels, food prices will become much higher as local produce can't make it to the market. For people living in Japan, that means eating irradiated food. There aren't enough testers in Japan to measure all the food going to market. On more than one occasion food has been sold and consumed only to find out later it contains dangerous levels of radioactivity.

So how do we keep ourselves safe? The only way is to take your own precautions. Don't buy food from Fukushima and surrounding prefectures... even though the farmers are not compensated for their unsellable food. Buy your own radiation detector and test your food and environment. Areas that are unsafe should be cleaned up. Food that is unsafe should be thrown away. I suggest you try to post the unsafe information for others to see as well.

Testing food isn't as easy as it sounds. In order to get an accurate reading, you can't use a Geiger Muller tube/Geiger Counter, You need to use a more sensitive scintillator. A calibrated C DV-700 with a alpha/beta/gamma scintillation detector would give you a basic level for environment contamination. You also need to adjust for ambient radiation.

To find out your ambient level, do a reading for about an hour in one spot; write it down, for this you need a ratemeter or better yet, a scaler. Then add your food stuff to the test for an hour and subtract the ambient from the final reading. An even better way would be to get an Isotope identifier/counter or a Becquerel meter, though I haven't been able to find many of either and the ones I have found were costly in the $10k range.

A used scaler might cost you a few hundred dollars and a good scintillation probe may cost you a few hundred dollars. I highly suggest this route because the cheap Geiger Muller tube/Geiger counters won't help you measure food.

As for the environment? With your Geiger Counter, you should test areas where dust, and rainwater gathers or flows. Anything that has a high reading should be wiped, washed or cleaned and tested again. Use protective gear when doing this. You don't want to inhale or ingest these radioactive particles. If the level's are too high, such as more than 50 microseiverts per hour, you should hire professionals to do the cleaning for you. Don't expect any compensation from your city, or municipality, but keep your receipts.

Stay safe in the land of Japan!

Link to the Al Jazera article: Fighting for a radiation-free Japan

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