SAFECAST, Paving The Way For The Future Of Radiation Measurement


Ever since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the official reports about radiation levels issued by the government as well as the radiation monitors on-site have been met with suspicion. Notwithstanding the fact that the disaster was caused by unprecedented natural causes, the way in which information was relayed to the public has been heavily criticized and doubted.

A week after the Fukushima Nuclear disaster, a decentralized model of documenting and sharing radiation readings that was dependent on the participation of the locals called ‘Safecast’ was set up. I have discussed this organization previously in my blog.

It all began with the assembling and usage of personal measuring instruments and sensors, checked to see if they provided accurate readings. The data collected through the use of these instruments was made available instantly on the sensor network. This was an elegant solution to the problem of the need for transparency and visibility, and the trust gained through the achievement of these two goals was backed up by the necessary technical expertise.

And as if to mirror global trends, the methods to build a sensor, the process by which to share the data online, and other required steps have all been simplified and put down in an easy-to-understand manual, allowing for anybody to participate and thus spreading this movement globally.

The accolades do not stop there. The IAEA recently recognized Safecast as one of the prime examples of contemporary information processing, and have rated it very highly. A quick look through the following two sites ( 1 , 2 ) will help form a rough idea of what I am saying here.

An article by ‘Atomic Reporter’ sums it up, remarking that it is “no wonder Safecast has a following at the IAEA. Two random guys in Japan became more widely trusted by many than 60-years of UN-agency authority”.

I urge you to go through the two websites mentioned, because although they are a bit lengthy, they are an accurate portrayal of the going-ons within the IAEA, and show how the Safecast team earned their fans within the crowd.

In our modern day and age, where the proliferation of the internet and increasingly smarter devices is making information more accessible, it is important to remember that sources of information must ensure independence, transparency, scientific verifiability, and adhere to international standards. It is when these four criteria are met that a source of information is afforded trust and belief. The NAIIC report was also executed with these four criteria in mind.

But can the same be said of the Japanese government, the authorities at TEPCO, the bureaucracy, the companies, media, universities, all these organizations dependent on maintenance of the status quo? How do they measure up to the needs for public disclosure, transparency, and international standards?

You can be a part of the Safecast network in various ways: one could perhaps build one’s own sensor and upload the data from the readings. This network of cooperation  is slowly but surely being cast across Japan and the rest of the world.

Congratulations! Shigeru Ban is Awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize


Shigeru Ban. An architect known all over the world, he has also demonstrated his compassion and philanthropy by helping create cost-effective temporary housing and great buildings for disaster affected regions. He is indeed, a great man.

Congratulations on being awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

I am privileged to have a friendship with Mr. Ban that goes back almost a decade, not to mention that we are both alumni of Seikei Gakuen (in Japanese). In addition, he is the architect behind the critically acclaimed design of the library at Seikei Gakuen (in Japanese).

I met him for the first time in 2012 at the World Economic Forum in New York City. I remember because of the location. Although the WEF is always held in Davos, 2012 was the only time that another city was hosting the event, in commemoration of the tragedy of the September 11th attacks. This was also where I attended a memorable session where leaders of both academic and science community and religious grops came together over lunch and had a very interesting discussion.

Mr. Ban has also appeared on TEDxTokyo in 2013. He manages to convey the essence of what he does in this presentation, and it is worth a watch.

I remember one time, when I tried to arrange a meeting several months in advance, and I asked him about his availability. I was startled by his reply, which was that ‘I don’t plan more than a month in advance. Who knows what kinds of tragic events might happen thusu where I might be’.

Leading groups of young people, he has travelled all over the world, quickly to regions affected by disaster, like L’Aquila, Christchurch, Haiti and Tohoku. There, he has helped in the rebuilding process by creating functional and beautiful buildings out of paper.

But one of the most awe-inspiring creations of Mr Ban to me was the ‘Nomadic Museum’ (in Japanese), not to mention the ‘Ashes and Snow’ collection within it. Another building of note is the NG Hayek Center in Ginza, Tokyo, which also houses the flagship store of Swatch. A unique project, it is elegant and refined, making it a joy to visit.

I am very pleased and happy to be able to appreciate the work of Shigeru Ban, truly a worldwide presence.

A New Academic Year Brings New Leaders at ‘Teach For Japan’


Teach For Japan (in Japanese) is a program that allows highly motivated young individuals to teach and help students who are from less privileged social community. And through this groundbreaking program, these young teachers are able to impact society in a new way, to nurture young individuals and develop themselves into new leaders. Indeed, this program is able to accomplish so much from those who have gone through. Indeed, graduates fresh out of Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Yale are increasingly making the U.S version of this program their top choice.

Don’t you think that this is great? Mr. Yusuke Matsuda has been working hard to bring this program to Japan, as I have introduced here in my blog a number of times (1, 2).

In the face of problems and adversity over last years, an unexpected 15 students fresh out of graduate school or undergraduate programs, as well as people who previously had ordinary jobs, started working as members of TFJ in places like Tokyo, Nara, and Osaka. They would be teaching at elementary and junior high level schools in localities where there is a need to overcome the obstacles posed by an underprivileged social standing.

This evening, I was participating in the send-off party for these new participants. The strongest impression I had was that both those being sent off and the ones doing the sending off are very passionate and highly motivated.

In the short speeches each of the new teachers made, there was talk of various backgrounds, of  motivations for joining the TFJ program, of the trials faced in the three-week preparatory course, and of the fervent wish to help the children who needed their services.

It was a very moving and inspiring two hours. Among the participants, there were people who, after working in Tohoku in disaster relief operations as well as in NGOs, felt that education was the way forward and therefore had decided to step up to the challenge of the TFJ program. There was also a student who started thinking about the problems facing Japanese society after witnessing the social problems of South Korea during time spent studying there, as well as people who, after working for a few years, recognised problems that they felt needed to be addressed.

I strongly believe that it is the continued efforts of young people like these that will fundamentally change Japanese society, and although still in its nascent stages, it will act as a nucleus for bigger things to come.

I would really like to ask each one of you , my readers, to do whatever you can in order to help.

Before and After March 11th


As I mentioned in my blog post on the 11th of March, these past two weeks have been occupied by events related to the work I did in the capacity of the Chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission by the National Diet, a commission that is the first of its kind in the history of Japan’s constitutional government.

At Tokyo University, I was invited to speak at an event organised by Kan Itou and his collaborators. Here I was invited to speak for 20 minutes about the NAIIC report, but unfortunately, that was all I did, as I left right after my speech to go to Ueno station to board a Shinkansen for Sendai in Tohoku. In a program titled ‘Sendai for Startups! 2014’, the group Impact Japan and the Sendai local government worked in tandem to provide a stage for entrepreneurs and business start-ups. Ms. Oikawa of Oikawa Denim (link in Japanese) presented as a local entrepreneur, while I presented Impact Japan’s new initiative in partnership with Sendai, IntilaQ.

This was followed by a lecture at Club Kanto, and then a 2-day meeting at the Swiss Embassy, after which I spent my weekend participating in an event organised by ‘The Simplest Explanation of the NAIIC’ and the Japanese Red Cross Society (link in Japanese), an event attended and by many high school and university students. It was an opportunity to learn of the ongoing struggle of the evacuees, showing the complexity of the damage caused by the triple disaster. As if this were not enough, I followed up with a visit to Bunkyo ward in Tokyo, and then had an opportunity to listen to Dr. Muto (link in Japanese), who is widely credited for having successfully introduced a new system of medical system into tsunami-devastated Ishinomaki city. The event was prepared by the Japan-North America Medical Exchange Foundation (JANAMEF) and fittingly spoke of the ever-changing situation in the world and how it affected the future of Japan.

Although change here in Japan is a slow and laborious process, there are some glimmers of hope in the actions of the young people of today. I wish them success in their endeavours!

Steps Towards Safer Nuclear Energy: The U.S.A GAO Report and the NAIIC Report


In any democratic setup, the separation of the three powers of the Government, administration, legislature and judiciary is a core necessity, with independent organisations  acting as watchdogs necessary for the proper functioning according to democratic principles.

The United States of America has the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to fulfill this role. Functioning under the legislative banch, ie, the Congress, it used to be called the General Accounting Office (the Japanese equivalent being the Board of Audit of Japan) till 2004, after which it changed to the present name.

This organization has recently published a report titled ”Nuclear Safety: Countries’ Regulatory Bodies Have Made Changes in Response to the Fukushima Daiichi Accident”, in which the NAIIC Report has been mentioned 6 or 7 times.

I am happy to have been part of the Commission, the first of its kind in constitutionally governed Japan, that has set a precedent for the further reforms that are urgently needed in the structure of governance in Japan. The NAIIC report has exposed the fragilities inherent in the present structure in a clinical and precise manner that can be likened to a medical check-up using a whole body CT scan, with us pointing out the problems that need to be remedied to the patient, in this case, the Japanese government.

A controversial point I made in the report was shown through my pinpointing Japanese ‘culture’ and ‘mindset’ as important causes of the accident, something for which I was heavily criticized by some media. However, the IAEA and the GAO have both acknowledged this proposition, judging from the fact that the IAEA is hosting a ‘Workshop on Global Safety Culture – National Factors Relevant to Safety Culture’, the 8th-11th of April. The first of its kind to approach Nuclear Safety from this standpoint, it is a encouraging response to the lessons learnt from Fukushima.

Interestingly, I have not been sent a notification nor an invitation by both the Japanese government and the IAEA. It is through an overseas colleague of mine that I heard about this workshop.

I had a similar experience in 2012. I leave you think about why, and to reach your own conclusions.

The 3rd Anniversary of March 11


Sorry for not updating my blog more often, but today is a day I must write. For the many people who have suffered the unimaginable, and continue to suffer in the aftermath of the events of 3.11, and the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, an event of such gravity that the Japanese government for the first time n her constitutional democratic history, set up an independent committee to investigate it, resulting in a report that has been submitted to both Houses in the Diet a year and 8 months go. I must write today because I was the chair of the committee that was in charge of the investigation.

Elsewhere in the world, many regions are gripped by drastic changes. Syria, Ukraine illustrate perfectly the tumultuous period that we live in. In sorry contrast, the unchanging situation in Japan is dominated by the political-industrial-bureaucratic complex, despite the glaring errors and gross negligence exposed in the aftermath of 3.11.

Yesterday (March 10th) was spent at the Japan National Press Club conference, in a two hour debate session with panelists such as G. Jazcko, the former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Yotaro Hatamura, former chairman of the Investigation Committee on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident by the Cabinet, and Koichi Kitazawa, former chairman of the Independent Investigation Committee of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident by a private sector. The full video of the proceedings can be accessed here on Youtube.

With the time for reserved for each speaker as told to be limited to around 6 minutes, I showed them a short excerpt of a video titled ‘What is the NAIIC?’ to help the audience understand what was so different about this investigation as seen from the various documentation, reports and publications. I also introduced the notion of ‘Accountability’ into the debate. My aim was not to go into details but rather introduce the issue as a way of understanding the various processes involved in the functioning of a large society governed according to democratic rules, and of the constantly changing situation in Japan and abroad.

I think that accountability is important because we need to ascertain the mindset of what those in power, how committed they are to their responsibilities. I was also interested in what the audience had learnt from the accident, how they felt about the situation, and what they were changing in their own life styles and values in response to the accident. Most of the participants were in media-related jobs, ie, journalists, and I really wanted to question them on their understanding.

The South China Morning Post also featured an interview of me, please see the link. I am pleased to note that the video, ‘What is the NAIIC Report’ is also mentioned. My comments on Safecast have also been included.

All eyes are upon Japan as it deals with the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. After all, there are 440 other such nuclear reactors in the world with the potential of causing similar accidents, plus 70 more under construction.

As greater information connectivity through Internet brings about an increasingly globalised world, transparency across all spheres, whether it be the state, the government, companies, media outlets, universities will be increasingly important in order to be trusted.