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In Japan, an effort to crowdsource radiation information

Women's group members from Fukushima hold a banner and throw their fists in the air to protest against nuclear power plants at a demonstration after an anti nuclear rally in Tokyo on July 16, 2012.

Jeff Horwich: To Japan now, where the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident is going nowhere fast. And in many cases, it's not clear where the radiation's OK and where it's not. That's where a group called SafeCast comes in. They've been on the ground since the accident.

Co-founder Sean Bonner is still in Japan and he's with me now. Hello, Sean.

Sean Bonner: Thanks for having me on.

Jeff Horwich: So, what’s the essential problem that you and your team are jumping in, in Japan, to solve?

Bonner: It’s mostly that there’s no reliable radiation data available to the public on the kind of granularity level that is actually useful to people. So we’ve been taking radiation on street by street level measurements and then publishing those for people to see.

Horwich: This might seem like a silly question but why do people want to know on such a granular level?

Bonner: Well, because it can change from street to street. We’ve seen levels change a hundred times just walking across the street and so giving one giant average doesn’t tell you the actual story in any case.

Horwich: But are people making decisions in their day to day lives based upon the kind of readings that you’re reporting?

Bonner: Absolutely. The readings that we took in some of the areas of inside the voluntary evacuation zone were not any higher than any major cities around the world. So people were able to see that and decide maybe, they didn’t need to abandon their entire lives to evacuate and likewise, some areas that were outside of any kind of recommended evacuation areas have some very high levels and some people made decisions to leave their homes or businesses, based on that, to move areas with lower readings.

Horwich: This mapping that you and your team of volunteers are doing -- why isn’t the Japanese government taking care of that?

Bonner: That is an excellent question, one that I don’t have any kind of an answer for. It’s not data that they don’t know. They’re certainly taking readings but we felt that people needed to have this kind of data so we started publishing it.

Horwich: Sean Bonner is the cofounder of SafeCast, good to talk with you Sean, thank you.

Bonner: Thanks again.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.
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