Disaster spawns Geiger counter network for citizens

Japan’s nuclear meltdown in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake inspired the creation of a grassroots radiation sensor network and a homemade Geiger counter for ordinary citizens. The DIY Geiger counter has since gone on presale for a limited time before the more expensive official version hits store shelves.

Anyone can buy the half-price $400 version of the new Geiger counter through the Kickstarter project organized by the global “Safecast” project — the grassroots organization founded in the wake of Japan’s disaster in March 2011. The smartphone-size device is being advertised as a “Swiss army knife of Geiger counters,” because it can measure beta and alpha particles as well as gamma radiation.

Most Geiger counters can only measure far-traveling gamma radiation, but the detection of beta and alpha particles allows people to pinpoint local contaminated surfaces. The aim of the new counter, designed by a netizen known as Bunnie Huang, is to be useful for ordinary citizens rather than just government scientists or labs.

“I decided my tiny contribution to the effort would be to design a radiation monitor suitable for everyday civilian use,” Huang wrote.

The Geiger counter designer described feeling “twisting knots” as he watched the tsunami “wiping out huge swathes of Japanese countryside,” in the early hours of the earthquake and tsunami disaster on March 11, 2011.

“In a matter of hours, entire cities were washed off the map, leaving an eerie post-apocalyptic landscape of a few survivors weeping amongst twisted wreckage,” Huang wrote. “Then, in the ensuing days, Fukushima Daiichi melted down, leaving in its wake one of the worst ongoing radiation contamination crisis since Chernobyl.” 

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a partial meltdown in the days after tsunami waves knocked out power for the reactors’ cooling systems. Japan’s government has kept a “no-go” zone that extends 12 miles (19 kilometers) around the nuclear facility because of the radiation threat.

Huang and Safecast made the new Geiger counter open-source so that anyone can download the design. But they scored a big win when International Medcom, a Geiger counter manufacturer, agreed to immediately start producing the new design and turn it into a reality.

The Kickstarter-exclusive edition of the Geiger counter offers a transparent case that reveals its working innards, as well as the $400 price tag that is roughly half of what the commercial version will cost. But anyone eager to own the limited edition must go through Kickstarter before June 19.

Innovation News Daily

  • 0

    REMzzz

    Wow, way to go! Best of luck to the project :)

  • 0

    REMzzz

    basroil,

    Considering what you just said, you hadn't even looked at the device in question. Assumptions, assumptions...

    This is a fully equipped Geiger counter that reads not only gamma rays but also alpha and beta particles. Gamma rays can come from anywhere, including the outer space because they can travel a long ways. In order to find the source of radiation here on earth, you need to not only measure the intensity of gamma (which most counters of that size do), but look for beta emissions. This is how you can pinpoint contamination on the ground. And so who cares about granite being naturally radioactive, if it's somewhere in a graveyard? Dead people don't die twice.

    The guys who designed this Geiger counter took something that was 3 times the size and got it down to the size of an iPhone, which is an achievement, i think. Being able to buy it for half price is a plus too. So go complain about something else, like the color of someone's toothpaste, or how often they sneeze on a given day.

  • -1

    basroil

    REMzzzJun. 18, 2012 - 06:15AM JST :

    This is a fully equipped Geiger counter that reads not only gamma rays but also alpha and beta particles. Gamma rays can come from anywhere, including the outer space because they can travel a long ways. In order to find the source of radiation here on earth, you need to not only measure the intensity of gamma (which most counters of that size do), but look for beta emissions. This is how you can pinpoint contamination on the ground. And so who cares about granite being naturally radioactive, if it's somewhere in a graveyard? Dead people don't die twice.

    Please read "The Chemical Composition of the Granitic Rocks of Japan" (pub. Hokkaido University). Almost an eighth of Japan is covered in granitic rocks, and interestingly enough, the Fukushima area is almost entirely granite. Since a cubic meter of granite produces upwards of 3200Bq, people will be running, hiding, and over-reacting if their house happens to be on top of granite rock (which is very likely). My statement stands, that this device in the hands of untrained people can cause panic and mis-information. If they use it as an expensive toy, that is fine, but it is NOT a scientific instrument, as it lacks the proper restrictions.

  • -3

    basroil

    As I mentioned before, these counters can't tell the difference between a banana, basement, and nuclear power plant. Not all radiation is the same, and Geiger counters can only give you overall radiation readings, not actual dose readings. This is nothing more than an expensive toy, as it simply gives you numbers with no meaning or actual analysis.

    I expect people to become even more paranoid when they realize their granite steps are radioactive, and brazil nuts are practically glowing.

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