Thousands of ordinary Japanese people are unknowingly accumulating higher than usual doses of radioactivity while consciously suffering many other deprivations and disruptions after the earthquake and tsunami. Reports exist of efforts to get dosimeters to first responders and TEPCO workers, but little evidence suggests much of an effort to supply personal dosimetry to ordinary citizens suffering exposures in this incident.
If it were me, and I was a Japanese resident of the areas West and North of the stricken reactors, and I knew everything I could find out about reported radiation monitoring in my vicinity, then I would want to know my personal dosage as I have gone about my business. This would be particularly true for me if my life called for me to spend many hours per day out of doors. I would be even more concerned if my activities carried me around to different parts of the area and to areas unfrequented by others. I wouldn't be satisfied with reports of generally low levels of airborne radiation at local sites, because I would know that incidence and concentration of radiation from an environmental release is typically spotty and uneven. But even in an area where most people could get around safely with out exposing themselves to undue risk from radiation, certain individuals' movements might just happen to increase their exposure to particularly hot spots in the patchy blanket of radioactivity let out by the plant. Until I see reassuring and reliable reports that control of all the Fukushima Daiichi had been positively established, the risk continues that at any moment another radioactive plume could ooze, reek, smoke or explode out of that plant.
There is simply no guarantee that radiation monitoring points will find all of warm, hot and hotter spots and particular individuals could easily and unknowingly stumble into more heavily contaminated areas and accumulate much more radiation than those around them. If I risked being radiated in excess of legal limits, I would wish to know about it.
Anyway, it is not as though we're talking about generally low levels of radiation at local sites. In a presentation that I read as intended to be reassuring, by our very own U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration, I found this alarming, to me, graphic of Fukushima Disaster radiation monitoring results reported by the USA's National Incident Team:
Do you see those colorful pustules of gold and yellow and green? They're kind of patchy and scattered and cover a very substantial area outside the previously established evacuation zone. I'd guess that the patchiness we see at the macro level is replicated at the micro level to some degree, perhaps contributing to the variability of radiation exposures received by particular individuals.
So, I started following the news on the subject of radiation dosimeters and looked into the industry that manufactures the different types for their various purposes. I sent an inquiry to ShelterBox asking if they had given any thought to providing dosimeters in their aid. What I have learned so far is not promising.
The biggest problem seems to be one of expense and logistics. Individual dosimetry appears to be pretty expensive, requiring either expensive electronic devices, expensive pen dosimeters, or a service network to interpret and report the readings. The dosimeter industry markets to first responders and industrial activities like nuclear plants for their high end and to the medical and affiliated world for most of the rest. This tends to keep individual dosimetry expensive, it appears to me. Anyway, there seems to be a lot of money and logistics required to get it done.
In the meantime, supplies dwindle as speculators or panic buyers deplete the market of readily available dosimetry products. But I'm not one step closer to helping with this problem.
For less than $2000, subject to availability, 10 Japanese could be supplied with simple, rechargeable pen dosimeters if a means of distribution could be devised. That is peace of mind for ten souls. Is it worth the price? Would it waste money best spent other ways? Would this community support such a project? Could it really be done?
I don't know how to get something like this done, but I guess we can start by talking about it.