Quirks & Quarks

How DIY radiation sleuths are holding Japan's government accountable

A citizen science program to measure radiation levels helps combat government mistrust
The March 11, 2011 quake off Japan's northeast coast triggered a tsunami that barreled onshore and disabled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. (Wally Santana/The Associated Press)

Seven Years Later

Seven years ago, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant melted down after a devastating earthquake and tsunami. The disaster is ongoing, the area around the Daiichi reactor is still a no-go zone. The citizens of Japan are left wondering, is it safe to return?

Government Data

Immediately after the disaster, the Japanese government collected data about the degree of radiation around the site and the potential risks to the public. The problem was – they didn't release all the data to the public until almost two months after the meltdown. The data on radiation exposure in Tokyo wasn't released until almost 6 months after the disaster. This created a distrust in the government data that persists today.

Safecast – Open Access Radiation Data

Safecast was invented days after the disaster as a citizen science project with the philosophy that data that affects people's lives should be freely and openly available. Azby Brown, the lead researcher for Safecast, distributes pocket Geiger counter to detect all the forms of radiation that threaten Japan. As the data is collected, it is uploaded to the Safecast website where now the coverage is worldwide. Now, Japanese citizens and people around the world can look at the maps generated by Safecast to make educated decisions about their exposure to radiation and what is safe.