Safecast at RADIEX 2012 report

Safecast volunteers and friends at Radiex. Medcom CEO Dan Sythe is second from left.

Radiex 2012 was a major trade show for products and services related to radiation monitoring, decontamination, and remediation, and was held at the Science Museum in Kitanomaru Koen in Tokyo from Sept 24-26 this year. When Dan Sythe, CEO of International Medcom, told us that he planned to attend and invited us to share his booth, we jumped at the chance. Medcom, which makes the Radalert and Inspector series of detectors, has been a staunch Safecast supporter from the very beginning, and provided us with much needed radiation detectors as well as extremely helpful advice. Medcom, as those who have been following along already know, will be the first manufacturer of our original open-source geiger counter, designed by Andrew “bunnie” Huang, and also does quite a bit of business in Japan, where its devices enjoy a  very high reputation for reliability and cost-performance. We had quite a few reasons to want to participate, such as to make new contacts, talk about our work, and show off our devices. But we also looked forward to spending a few days hanging out with Dan.
Our preparations were a bit more involved than most of our presentations usually are, since we needed to design and print banners for the booth and several different flyers in both Japanese and English, organize display cases and lighting, and prepare new talks. Lots of volunteers pitched in, and amazingly we were ready on time for the Monday morning opening. About six of us manned the booth at one point or another, and Dan, Pieter, Kalin, and Joe gave talks, while Pieter and Dan participated in a panel discussion on the final day of the event.

Video links:
Kajima Construction Company’s presentation

Washing equipment maker Kärcher had a very large display

Overall, the event was informative and also very odd. Organized by The Environmental News (Kankyoshimbunsha), it was sponsored by a number of government ministries, including Environment, Internal Affairs and Communications,  Education, Health, Labour and Welfare, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, and others. It was divided into zones for decontamination technology, reduction and disposal of decontamination waste, measurement and analysis devices, and government and public organizations. Our booth was in the measurement and analysis section. There were quite a few large companies represented, like Areva (France), Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Materials, and every major Japanese construction company (Kajima, Shimizu, Taisei, etc).  There were a number of mid-size companies as well, and a handful of small ones like Medcom. Two or three universities also had displays of their decontamination-related technology. In addition to Areva and Medcom, there were a few other overseas exhibitors, including STC Amplituda, a Russian manufacturer of detection equipment that we got along very well with (they were demonstrating a suitcase-sized whole body counter among other products).  After spending a day at the show, a person could leave with a very good picture of the state of the art in most aspects of radiation detection, including remote systems; different ways being used to try to clean roads, buildings, and agricultural fields; ways to filter contamination from water or other material; and methods for burying contaminated debris.  Lots of methods.  In fact, some of us were joking that the exhibition should probably be called the “How to Bury Stuff Show.” The most frequent response to our questions about the main difficulties disposal specialists have been facing was that in most cases permanent disposal sites have not yet been decided, so temporary sites need to be found but still made safe and secure.  It’s much easier to do this when the stuff can be permanently buried.
We discovered an extremely wide range of detection devices on exhibit, from a low cost egg-shaped Scintillator, the Air Counter EX, by ST (エステ)which sells for ¥19,000, to the Toshiba Portable Gamma Camera, with a price in the tens of millions of yen.
We brought along a sample of contaminated earth to use as a check source (we’ll only say that it was “very” hot), and observed that many of the detectors on display failed to respond to it. The Air Counter EX did, after about one minute, and the Gamma Camera did as well if we held the source a foot or less away. Other expensive devices failed to detect the sample at all. To be fair, the Gamma Camera and some other devices have settings optimized for long collection times, and would likely give good results when used by well-trained (and patient) operators. But we could easily imagine real-world scenarios where even relatively high contamination levels could go undetected with some of these devices.
A surprisingly diversified supply, support, and materials subsector was in evidence, with several suppliers of shielding, for instance. Yoshizawa Kogyo was offering well-crafted modular lead shielding blocks as well as blocks drilled with thousands of tiny holes to act as radiation “waveguides,” directing radiation to one location while protecting others. The potential medical and laboratory applications of this were clearer than possible environmental uses, however;  Another standout was a wonderfully engineered soil analysis scintillator with Bluetooth and an Android app.
Several other aspects struck us as well. The most significant is the degree to which decontamination has become a big business in Japan, attracting many major companies. This has spawned an entire stratum of subcontractors, very few of which are actually based in Fukushima. Many of the people we spoke to were subcontractors who had entered the business within the last year, dealing with local governments, coping with complex regulations, and learning as they go (kind of like us).  A lot of these people were very sincere, but in general the difference between the people whose main objective seemed to be money and those who seemed strongly motivated to actually help people was immediately apparent.  We were also struck at how the “detection and decon” business sphere has evolved to the point where we were approached by two different companies who are licensed to certify detection devices for use under government decontamination contracts.  Their services are expensive, and we felt, opportunistic.
bGeigies and other Safecast devices on display

Safecast was definitely the only organization of its kind participating in the event. And we didn’t encounter many average citizens, mostly businesspeople. Quite a few seemed unable to understand our business model of making great stuff, giving it away for free, and then asking for donations. As soon as it was clear that no big contract was forthcoming, these people lost interest and moved on. A lot of others, however, technical types as well as smaller local companies and NGOs, instantly understood what Safecast is doing and why we are doing it, and appreciated the cost-performance breakthrough our various bGeigie versions represent.  We received several requests for bGeigie Nano kits when they become available, and made some good contacts with people helping municipalities in Fukushima and elsewhere decide how to spend their decontamination funds most effectively.  We distributed handouts describing how we measured every street in Minamisoma in one week free of charge, offering a similar service to any town that requests it. And we were able to solicit donations of equipment from a few detector manufacturers as well.
Radiex will probably become a yearly event, and we’d welcome the chance to participate again (especially since we now have banners and display cases!).  We handed out hundreds of brochures and flyers, and collected a large stack of business cards from people we’d like to follow up with. We felt it was very worthwhile to put ourselves into a place where our approach and results could be compared side-by-side with the best-funded operations — like the million-dollar “mobile” radiation sensor mounted on a big trailer that essentially does the same thing as a $300 bGeigie– and we’re confident that we measured up.
Sean Bonner shows off a bGeigie Nano to a new Russian friend from STC Amplituda