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Hacking a Geiger Counter in Nuclear Tokyo | Print |
Written by Akiba   
Thursday, 24 March 2011

I'm sure a lot of you reading this are familiar with the situation in Japan right now. A horrible earthquake and tsunami occurred and along with all the destruction, it also caused a meltdown at a nuclear reactor near Tokyo. Since then, Tokyo has been suffering from nuclear fallout and tainted food and water. As of this post, we've just been informed that the tap water in Tokyo is tainted with radiation, there seems to have been a run on bottled water, and the situation is getting very disturbing (as if a nuclear meltdown in your backyard is not disturbing enough).

The day after the nuclear problems started occurring at the plant, geiger counters started popping up on Ustream. After that, Pachube set up special accounts for radiation data feeds in Japan (thank you Pachube). Unfortunately, geiger counters were sold out everywhere. The fear of nuclear disaster and radiation spread internationally and there was a run on geiger counters. Luckily, Tokyo Hackerspace was able to obtain two of them from Reuseum . They had actually bent over backwards getting them to us quickly and was calling their warehouse for stock and UPS and FedEx to see who would still deliver to Japan. We received them two days ago and I brought them to Tokyo Hackerspace yesterday to show people how to use it. We're keeping one at the space so that people can borrow it to check out their living area and reassure their families that its safe. Here's a pic of me scanning Karamoon , another Tokyo Hackerspace member. His head was looking very suspicious...

I wanted to put the other geiger counter up publicly and as quickly as possible to share the data with others in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the geiger counters are completely analog and there was no way to pull data from it. So, being the nerd that I am, I proceeded to hack it into what I wanted. These are the project details of the process of converting a cold-war era, analog geiger counter into a device that can digitally send data to Pachube, a public sensor feed aggregator. 

Also, I wanted to mention that I decided that this geiger counter would reside outside on my balcony, although inside a cardboard box. The reason for this is that most of the geiger feeds in Tokyo right now are indoors and I noticed a larger variance in geiger measurements outdoors versus indoors. I checked the measurements of this geiger inside my apartment and they follow closely with the official government numbers as well as other geiger counters around Tokyo. I figured its better to have it outdoors so that people can get an idea of what they're being exposed to when walking around. Most of the fallout is particulate matter. As a point of reference, the normal background radiation in Shinjuku is 0.035 uSv/Hr .

You can download the Arduino and Processing code that collects the data and sends it up to Pachube after the jump. The pics are also there.

Here's the link to the Arduino code for the geiger counter's chirp counting, wireless transmitter, and receiver:

Link

Here's the link to the Processing code which takes data from the receiver and uploads it to Pachube:

Link

Here's the link to Tokyo Hackerspace's Pachube Geiger feed:

Tokyo Hackerspace Geiger Feed

And here's the pics. Enjoy!

Updated 2011-03-25: We got a request for the extra geiger counter from a shelter we adopted in Kamogawa. They need it to scan incoming donated food for radiation. Figure it would do them more good than it would do us. Anyways, we now have geiger readings up publicly and the Japan geiger map (http://japan.failedrobot.com). So we agreed that the extra geiger is going out to the shelter :)

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written by Rick Knowles, March 24, 2011
> His head was looking very suspicious..

Hey ! That's called physical profiling of balding men, and I resent that ! smilies/wink.gif

Seriously though, great work. Now if we can just find a way of measuring the water contamination independently ...
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written by Akiba, March 24, 2011
It wasn't profiling. I thought I noticed a faint radioactive glow at the top of his head. It turned out to be the reflection from the fluorescent lights smilies/smiley.gif
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Can the geiger counter be used to detect radiation in water?
written by Phil, March 24, 2011
Or is there some other method for detecting radiation in water?
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live tokyo geiger
written by coffeexxx, March 24, 2011
Theres a live tokyo geiger streamimg at www.alttokyo.com
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written by Akiba, March 24, 2011
Do you think he'd be able to get his data up on Pachube? Then it can get pulled into Geiger Maps, which is an extremely useful tool:

Geiger Maps:
http://japan.failedrobot.com
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written by Akiba, March 24, 2011
@Phil: I tested the geiger counter on the tap water but did not see any noticeable difference. I think they test radioactivity in water differently since the measurement units also seem to be different. Again, I'm not an expert in this field and seem to be learning on the fly.
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written by joe.08, March 25, 2011
you can measure gamma radiation in water. Its neutron, beta, and alpha that gets tricky. Think of alpha particles as helium nuclei and beta as an electron. The positive charge of the Helium nucleus will strip electrons from the medium they are in and the electron will join in on what ever atom/molecule that may need an extra negative charge. Water "blocks" neutrons due to the abundance of hydrogen.
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Thanks a bunch
written by Robbie, March 26, 2011
Well done. Very useful. Yes, like many, I'm not entirely sold on the official word. Independent data and analysis is definitely needed. We're trusting Tepco with way too, I think. I'd feel better if there was an international presence in those control rooms on site. The IAEA head didn't stay long at all. Who can blame him?
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written by Akiba, March 26, 2011
Yeah, I think independent corroboration is really useful. I like Geiger maps and also RDTN.org. The more info you have, the easier it is to make an informed decision. I think having less information is what leads to panic because people naturally assume the worst. As for Tokyo, I'm seeing the radiation levels being pretty stable at around 0.13 to 0.18 uSv/Hr outdoors. The outdoor geigers in Kanagawa also are similar. The indoor geigers in Setagaya are reading around 0.04 uSv/Hr which is basically the same as background radiation outdoors on a normal day. Definitely not harmful. So levels in Tokyo are not bad at all smilies/smiley.gif
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Discuss (3 posts)
Philipp
Hacking a Geiger Counter in Nuclear Tokyo
Mar 27 2011 12:02:28
This thread discusses the Content article: Hacking a Geiger Counter in Nuclear Tokyo

But with this device you will only be able to measure gama rays, right? Apha and Beat-rays will be blocked by the cardboard. Or is the Geiger counter only able to measure gama rays anyway?
#2830

Akiba
Re:Hacking a Geiger Counter in Nuclear Tokyo
Mar 28 2011 22:21:02
Thats correct. I'm not trying to monitor alpha radiation. That commonly occurs in the radioactive decay of uranium ore or plutonium. I'm most interested in the presense of Cs-137 which decays into gamma rays (x-rays). These are easily seen through cardboard.
#2831
Howard
Re:Hacking a Geiger Counter in Nuclear Tokyo
Apr 04 2011 13:24:03
Actually both I-131 and Cs-137 have significant beta decay paths as well. Opening a hole in the side and facing the probe out the hole might increase sensitivity a lot.
#2844


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