American praised for getting Japan radiation data

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese seeking information on radiation levels in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster are turning to a volunteer group founded in the U.S. that has created a detailed and constantly updated visual database online.

Sean Bonner, a Los Angeles resident, computer expert and one of the founders of the group called Safecast, said nothing could have been more natural than to jump in and fill the need for information after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant in northeastern Japan.

Many Japanese were terrified about the health effects of radiation, especially for children, and worried whether their homes, schools and offices were safe. They were also frustrated by the lack of government or other official data on radiation. Geiger counters were selling out.

Within weeks, Bonner and his team created a handmade Geiger counter connected with a GPS feature that he calls ‘‘bGeigie,’’ a reference to Japanese-style ‘‘bento’’ lunchboxes. It is attached to cars and takes a reading every five seconds, resulting in a massive store of data. There are 30 to 35 such mobile devices traversing Japan and 320 fixed devices.

Safecast made the technology and the data open, sharing the design and findings, and has now collected more than 3 million measurements across Japan. Other volunteers have developed online maps with the data.

‘‘There was no data that was available anywhere, and we were rather surprised,’’ Bonner said during a trip to Japan last week to meet with volunteers. ‘‘We realized that we could help.’’ Safecast says it is currently focused on Japan but would like to provide data on a global level.

Over the last year and a half, Safecast, billed as ‘‘a global sensor network for collecting and sharing radiation measurements to empower people with data about their environments,’’ has grown.

It has won grant funding, including The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has collected donations and works with Japanese universities. Local governments in Fukushima are also linking up with Safecast to get additional readings, such as in schools, and sharing data with residents. More volunteers are joining, including Europeans, Japanese and other nationalities.



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