Who's still tracking radiation from Fukushima? And who should we trust?

News and commentary about environmental issues.
June 16 2011 8:29 AM

Monitoring the Monitors

Who's still tracking radiation from Fukushima? And who should we trust?

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The EPA reached the same conclusion about falling radiation levels. Around the same time NILU bailed, the EPA announced that it was scaling back its heightened monitoring program in the United States. In place of that program, the EPA resumed its standard quarterly readings of milk, drinking water, and  precipitation, as well as a less-intense-but-still-constant air monitoring program. Though the NILU and EPA announcements helped fuel a censorship narrative that implicated both the Japanese and American governments, it was clearly the falling radiation levels that  prompted  the organizations  to change course.

The EPA's routine reports should still provide ample warning of potential long-term risks within the United States. In fact, the agency will continue to collect 24/7 air measurements through its national network of sensors. RadNet, as the network is known, can pick up even trace amounts of radiation and pinpoint individual radioactive isotopes  at its sampling stations in all 50 states.

For those who want quicker updates or have less faith in government-sponsored operations, crowdsourced networks like Japan Geigermap provide an alternative. Geigermap aggregates data from monitors all over Japan, including universities, local councils, and citizens who hook up their own Geiger counters.   RadiationNetwork.com, a U.S.-based grass-roots group, has hundreds of radiation-monitoring stations across the United States—with about 40 switched on at any given time—and some in Japan and Europe. Based on the same kind of Geiger counters that first responders carry, the user-friendly readings appear in real-time, minute by minute.

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Tim Flanegin, the site's operator and founder (who also sells Geiger counters), acknowledges that his network's stations don't gather data as precisely as the government's more sophisticated equipment. Unlike those expensive devices,

typical Gieger counters tell you only the amount of radiation, not the type. But the value of his network, which found little to no rise in radiation levels in the United States following Fukushima, is that "it adds to the information base," he says. And lots of people tell him they sleep easier knowing the network's stations—which have no agenda other than impartial measuring—are keeping a vigilant lookout.

Daniel Krieger is a freelance writer in Japan. Follow him on Twitter.

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