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.

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.

December: Many Meetings and Busy Days


Following the seminar by Dr. Garrett on December 2nd, the Global Conference on Universal Health Coverage, organized by the World Bank and the Japanese government (1), was held on the 5th and 6th.

President Jim Yong Kim gave an excellent key note speech, and I had the opportunity to speak with him. At the time when President Kim worked at the World Health Organization (WHO), I was the WHO Commissioner, so we knew each other indirectly.

On the afternoon of the 6th, I went to Tokai University where I was Dean of Medical School (1996-2002) for the first time in in last few years and gave a special seminar. On the 7th, there was a conference at the University of Tokyo, hosted by the Graduate School of Public Policy, with the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident. The moderator was Mr. Nobuo Tanaka, a leading figure in international energy policy.

On the 9th, I had lunch at the French Embassy with Ambassador Philippe Meunier, who is the ambassador in charge of measures against AIDS and Communicable Diseases.

On the 11th, there was a meeting hosted by the Health and Global Policy Institute and held at the international conference center in the Parliament, which welcomed Governor Patrick of Massachusetts of the United States. Professor John Hamalka of Harvard University also participated via Skype. This turned out to be an outstanding conference and the governor seemed very satisfied. In the evening, there was a reception at the US Embassy, hosted by Ambassador Kennedy, there were many people there and it was a bit hectic.

On the 12th and 13th, I attended the Asian Innovation Forum with Mr. Idei, which I have already written about.

On the 14th, I headed to Abu Dhabi. There was a board members meeting of Khalifa University of Science and Technology (KUSTAR) in Abu Dhabi, there I had spent a few days just three weeks ago.

In the afternoon of  the 15th after a break upon arrival, the President of KUSTAR gave a presentation to the three international board members, and the next day, 16th, the board members meeting had a good discussion and future planning.

After lunch, I enjoyed playing some golf at the wonderful Yas Links course, and then headed to the airport.

I returned Tokyo on 17th. After arriving home, I rested a bit and then in the evening had dinner with Erik Solheim at the Embassy of Norway. Mr. Solheim aimed to be a politician since his youth, has been a minister, and has contributed significant work as a Cabinet member of the Government and the world in peace keeping mission of Sri Lanka.

It has been very busy month, but I have been able to enjoy meeting many incredible people.

Abroad in November -4: Taipei, Discussing the Education of Doctors


This past spring, I received an invitation from the Society of Internal Medicine in Taiwan to give a lecture. Following this, people involved in nuclear power also invited me to Taiwan. The dates were spaced out by about three or four days, so I was able to make some adjustments and attend both this time.

On the 22nd, I returned from Abu Dhabi and spent one night at home. The next day, I flew to Taipei. Two years ago, I attended the Society of Internal Medicine in Taiwan, and this time I was joined by Dr. Thomas Cooney, the Oregon Chapter Governor of the American College of Physicians. He is very passionate about education.

As the topic was the medical education and training, I commented on the movie, ‘The Doctor’, which is modeled on Dr. Edward Rosenbaum. His family carried on the trait of talented medical doctors, with his son, a distinguished scholar working at the School of Medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University, where Dr Cooney works, and his granddaughter, Dr. Liza Rosenbaum at the University of Pennsylvania as well as a renowned columnist for the New Yorker. What a coincidence! It is worth bringing up many topics as it leads to discussing and listening to interesting stories and things.

We all gave lectures and everyone had great insights into education and research that they have put it into practice.

The next day, I gave a talk to people in the nuclear power sector in Taiwan and some colleagues who had worked on the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission also accompanied me.

The series of six installments of The Simplest Explanation of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission received great acclaim. One person commented, “Some words appeared in Kanji (Chinese) characters so it was easy to read and follow the English narratios.”

It is imperative to share the lessons of a major accident like Fukushima Nuclear.

The Situation at Fukushima, An article in the Washington Post


It is already two and half years since the accident at Fukushima, yet there is virtually no one who would consider that the situation has been suitably has been stabilized. The media reports one problem after the other: contamination of groundwater, leakage of radioactive water, the problems posed by rainfall. Indeed, this is a critical issue not only for the Japanese but also for the world.

The biggest question right now on everybody’s mind is whether the Japanese government has made an accurate appraisal of the ability of TEPCO in allowing to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. The government too, is resorting to its usual way of dealing with such problems: setting up a committee, in this case, the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning. It remains to be seen how open to debate, how transparent and how international this committee will become.

Although TEPCO invited an international advisory committee that in itself is not enough. Transparency in areas such as how serious TEPCO is about dealing with the situation, and what measures it plans to take, and what it is learning are needed in order to lend credence to the whole process. Yet even here, there are many problems. One of these reports came from Lady Barbara Judge, vice-chair of TEPCO Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee and it was carried on the 16th page of the October 22nd Nikkei newspaper morning edition.

We are not the only ones worried about the situation. That the Washington Post carried an article about Fukushima Daiichi on its first three pages on the 21st of October, and the New York Times on the 4th of September, speak volumes about the critical stance of foreign media. To appear as the top article in the printed version is quite impactful and the illustration in On-line version of Washington Post is well done.

By the way, I would like to introduce Junichi Kobayashi (blog, twitter @idonochawan), who translates one foreign media article into Japanese everyday. Predictably, most of the articles these days have to do with Fukushima Daiichi, but it is a good source of information if one wants to get a sense of how the world is currently viewing Japan.

I am thankful for his efforts, for it requires a great deal of effort to accomplish what he is doing.

The “Audacious Young Lady” continues her work, and my opinions


There are people who have chosen very diverse careers after working at the National Diet of Japan Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). The three people whom I introduced in my column, Mr. Shiina, Mr. Ishibashi and Ms. Aikawa, the “audacious young lady,” are examples of this.

Ms. Aikawa’s book, Hinanjakusha [The Vulnerable Evacuees] has been read widely, and recently there has been an online article of her interview (in Japanese). It makes me happy that her message is being spread. Young people will take action. It is quite impressive.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s magazine, The Number 1 Shimbun ran an article by me following up on NAIIC after it was disbanded, also featuring Ms. Aikawa, Mr. Shiina and Mr. Ishibashi.

NAIIC is the first independent investigation commission in Japanese constitutional history. As it is the first, many politicians, bureaucrats, media, academics and the people of Japan do not understand what NAIIC stands for. The response in Japan has been much weaker than abroad (1, 2).

It takes time for democratic systems to fully function.

I am very concerned about the situation at Fukushima Daiichi. We must not forget that there are many people around the world who are truly worried and concerned about Japan.

To Various Places


After attending the Mansfield Foundation’s U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group convention, I flew to Okinawa to attend the meeting of the board of governors at the OIST.

It was to be a three days two nights meeting (the 2nd , 3rd and 4th of October), but because I was feeling not well, I returned to Tokyo on the second day and participated through video-conference on the 4th. Although there is still a lot left to be done, I feel that it is wonderful that we have accomplished so much in so little time. I feel that this tenth anniversary will mark some big changes as well.

The next day, the 5th, I participated in the  Japanese Society of Nephrology’s ‘Panel Discussion For Gender Equality’ (link in Japanese), after which I headed to Kyoto for the STS forum (5th to 8th October). This event too was celebrating its tenth year in existence. With more than a thousand participants and with Prime Minister Abe giving the opening speech, the forum was off to a great start.  I was on the panel for ‘Education and ICT (Information and Communication Technology)’. I met with many friends and colleagues at the forum, and I also had the good fortune of meeting people from the Qatar Foundation who were attending for the first time. We had the opportunity to have a conversation and I also managed to provide them with the names of some researchers who would be able to cooperate with them.

On the 8th, after returning from Kyoto, I had a dinner with an executive of a foreign capital enterprise, and on the 9th and the 10th, I was invited to the 35th anniversary celebrations of Oriental Giken, where I lectured and shared the stage with Ken Kornberg, the architect who designed OIST. Ken is the son of Arthur Kornberg, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Roger, one of his brothers is a Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry. Another brother Thomas is an outstanding scientist in the field of molecular biology.

The next day, I went to a discussion with the Liberal Democratic Party about the form that a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission would take. After this meeting, I headed to a workshop organized by IOCA, a group that I met at the summer course on Global Health organized by HGPI. This workshop was getting some good reviews from among various organizations, so I wanted to take a look.

At night, I was invited to the Swiss Embassy, where I met with Honorable Doris Leuthard, one of leading Swiss politicians who is the Minister of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications portfolio, and I talked about nuclear energy.

Again, I was busy as always, but if I am asked what I have accomplished, or what I have contributed, I would be forced to pause and think.

The Mansfield Foundation’s U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group


I participated in the Mansfield Foundation’s U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group convention in Osaka.

This group recently published a report detailing the strategic priorities regarding nuclear power in Japan and the U.S, and these conventions were part of their campaign. Although similar events were held in Fukuoka and Tokyo, I was only able to participate in the Osaka Convention.

The recommendations refer to the increased cooperative relations that are expected in the coming years, and most of them are very reasonable. One of the members of the committee, Charles Ferguson, was the chairperson during my NAIIC Capitol Hill Briefing that was organized by the Japan-U.S Council last October. He played no small part in ensuring that my briefing got the attention that it deserved by highlighting its importance.

At the Osaka convention, the panelist discussion was followed up by comments made by me and Professor Shunya Hoshino of Osaka University.

Because each of the panelists was well-versed in nuclear energy, the talk did not go into technical details, but rather focused on the larger issues, such as the significance of the NAIIC, the dangers of groupthink, as well as other problems that arose specifically because the accident occurred in Japan.

One such Japan-specific problem was the composition of the audience. Barring the two female simultaneous interpreters, there were only three or four women in the audience of more than two hundred. Talk about strange. I believe that this can occur only in Japan.

Among the four panelists, there was one woman, Sharon Squassoni(Director and Senior Fellow, Proliferation Prevention Program, CSIS).

After the convention ended, the members of the working group headed to Fukushima, while I headed to Kansai Airport, from where I would be flying to Okinawa in order to attend the meeting of the board of governors at the OIST.