How radioactive is Fukui?

Posted by in Mike's blog


Remember that time in 2011 when the world’s eyes turned to Japan after the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear crisis in Fukushima prefecture?  Of course you do, everybody does.

We flew to Japan around 5 months after the disaster(s), but we didn’t do so without being aware of the impact that they had on this place.  After a few minutes of research we were fairly certain that Fukui is just TOO FAR to have been directly affected by any of the airborne fallout from the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, and everything we have seen and experienced since arriving here has confirmed our suspicions.  How far is too far?  If a similar radioactive event were to have taken place at the Canadian House of Commons (that’s in Ottawa), we probably would not have moved away from where we lived in Kitchener, Ontario.  The distance between where we live now and Fukushima Daiichi is similar.

It’s easy to lose people when we talk about radiation.  Here’s a fun interactive map:

Red and yellow are bad.  Blue is not bad.  The map is (or was if you moved it) centered on Fukui, and Fukui is blue.

One of the most popular questions we get asked is “…but how do you KNOW that it’s safe?  You can’t see radiation, what if there’s a government cover-up?”  While I don’t doubt that the power company in Tokyo and several levels of government have their secrets, we chose to place our trust in a wonderful non-government organization called Safecast.  Safecast volunteers regularly drive around Japan with Geiger counters to take their own measurements and upload them to the Safecast website.  That data becomes part of the map shown above.

I was fortunate enough to become one of those volunteers last fall.  That blue on the map around Fukui?  I uploaded some of those measurements.  We happen to go to church with a science professor/renewable energy activist, and he lent me his bGeigie (bento Geiger counter, pictured above) machine for a while.  We attached it to our little car and we drove around gathering data wherever we went.  Here’s one of the routes we took and the measurements to go along with it.

It was very satisfying to confirm for ourselves that the environment in Fukui is NOT dangerous.  Few people get the chance to check these things – we have to trust others’ information.  Everyone we talked to about what we were doing with the bGeigie was interested in learning more about it.  Without Safecast, Japan would be relying on news reports and government talking points to find out whether the world around them is safe or not.  Unfortunately, most still rely on the news because they haven’t yet heard about the good work that the Safecast volunteers have been doing.  Most haven’t seen the grassroots/crowd-sourced map further up on this page.  Fukui is safe…but there are parts of that map that are still quite red and yellow, and they are nowhere near the Fukuishima nuclear power plant.

How radioactive is Fukui?  Not very, however, we can’t  celebrate being in an area that is free from contamination without remembering that there are many who do not have that privilege, especially after looking through the data on the Safecast map.