How dangerous is low-level radiation? Perhaps, much less riskier than we think.

Everyone knows that high levels of radiation are deadly. It seems that no one is certain of how much low-level radiation poses a serious health threat. It’s one of the things that makes the nuclear disaster in Japan such a cause for fear and anguish. One of the problems of assessing the risk is that it’s very hard to study low levels of radiation exposure because there are many things that contribute to people getting cancer.

In the September 13th, 201o issue of The New Yorker, noted journalist Peter Hessler, wrote a piece entitled The Uranium Widows: Why Would A Community Want To Return To Milling A Radioactive Element?. It’s about a small community in Colorado that seems overwhelmingly positive about plans to build America’s first new uranium mill in thirty years. Hessler was first skeptical about the public reception as well but after spent months researching the dangers of radiation, he reached some conclusions that surprised himself. With his permission, we’re reprinting the relevant portions of the article.  Hessler is not a nuclear scientist but he is a highly credible journalist and a meticulous researcher; he is also not a flack for the nuclear power industry. He backs up his article with a number of reliable sources.   This may not answer the question on the minds of all those in Japan and in Tokyo, but perhaps it will give some perspective.*

—The effects of high doses are well documented, largely because of a sixty-year study of nearly a hundred thousand Japanese atomic-bomb survivors. With high levels of radiation, there’s a clear linear pattern—more exposure means an incremental rise in risk. But it’s unclear whether this pattern continues into the lower-dose range, where any health effects are so small that they can’t be demonstrated by epidemiological studies. Some experts and scientific bodies, including the French Academy of Sciences, have questioned the linear model for low levels, believing that radiation may be harmless up to a certain threshold. This is a controversial idea, because it would radically change risk assessment, as well as possible solutions for the storage of nuclear waste.

United States regulations continue to follow the linear no-threshold theory. It has the benefit of being simple and safe, but it can also be misinterpreted. Because of Colorado’s elevation, a resident there receives two to three times the natural background radiation of someone who lives in New Jersey, so strictly speaking there should be an increased risk of cancer.  (In fact, Colorado cancer rates are lower.) After the Chernobyl accident, in 1986, anti-nuclear groups and scientists used the findings from the Japanese atomic-bomb survivors, extrapolated downward for the radiation levels in Europe, and predicted tens of thousands of deaths from cancer. Critics note that this is like taking a set of deaths from motorists who drove a curve at a hundred miles an hour and making the assumption that, if people slow to ten miles an hour, they’ll die at a tenth of the original rate. This is also why a hundred and twenty-seven million dollars was spent obsessively cleaning up an abandoned town whose former residents lived longer than the national average.

Even worst-case disasters reveal surprisingly small effects. In Chernobyl, dozens of emergency workers died after fighting the reactor fire, but the health impact on neighboring communities seems to be limited. After more than twenty years of extensive study, there is no consistent evidence of increased birth defects, leukemia, or most other radiation related diseases. The only public epidemic consists of high rates of thyroid cancer in children, whose glands are particularly sensitive to radiation. Fewer than ten people have died—thyroid cancer is usually treatable—although it will be years before the full impact of the epidemic is known.  But, like the accident itself, it could have been avoided entirely. The Soviet reactor lacked a containment facility, and the Communist government delayed announcing the accident.

Dr. John Boice, who founded the radiation epidemiology branch of the National Cancer Institute, spoke with Peter Hessler. Dr. Boice now teaches at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, and is also the scientific director of the International Epidemiological Institute, an independent research organization.

“The Russians could have done one thing that would have gotten rid of the epidemic of thyroid cancer,” Boice told me. “They could have said, ‘Don’t drink the milk.’ ” In surrounding areas, cows ate grass contaminated by fallout, and people fed the milk to their children. An open society probably would have responded differently; even as far back as 1957, when a fire at a badly designed British nuclear facility called Windscale released radiation, all local milk was dumped into the sea.

Boice told me that the biggest health problems from high-profile accidents are often psychological. A twenty-year study showed no consistent evidence that the low amounts of radioactivity released in the Three Mile Island accident have had a significant impact on mortality in communities around the reactor.

The World Health Organization does not classify uranium as a human carcinogen.  The walls of Grand Central Terminal are made of granite, which contains elements that produce radon; a worker there receives a larger dose of radiation than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows a uranium mill to emit to a next-door neighbor.  Being closer to the sun—living in the mountains, flying in planes—also means more radiation. According to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the average airline crewmember receives an annual dose of work-related radiation that is more than one and a half times higher than that of the average employee in the nuclear power industry. (Neither dose is higher than what the typical American receives from natural background radiation.) And there is no compelling evidence that low amounts of radiation cause health problems.—

★The situation at Fukushima reactor is still uncertain but hopeful. If you are close to the reactor or highly irradiated areas, you  may also find the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) FAQ on Radiation Contamination and Radiation Exposure useful as well. I don’t think that people living in Tokyo face any serious risk but for your own peace of mind, this is probably worth reading as well.

Disclosure: Peter and I grew up in the same town and were friends in high school, so there is a personal connection. I thought the article was extremely helpful and am thankful he shared it with me. Comments are welcome.

Latest Travel Warning from the U.S. State Department

Travel Warning
Bureau of Consular Affairs

March 18, 2011

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S citizens of the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recommends that U.S. citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical.  The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Japan at this time and those in Japan should consider departing.  On March 16, 2011, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel in Tokyo (Tokyo Capital Region), Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture), and the prefectures of Akita, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi.  Separately, because of infrastructure damage from the earthquake and resulting tsunami, voluntary authorized departure is authorized for the eligible family members at Misawa AB (Aomori Prefecture).  This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated March 16, 2011.In response to the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy, and other technical experts in the U.S. Government have reviewed the scientific and technical information they have collected from assets in country, as well as what the Government of Japan has disseminated.  Consistent with the NRC guidelines that would apply to such a situation in the United States, we are recommending, as a precaution, that U.S. citizens within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical. There are numerous factors in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, including weather, wind direction, and speed, and the nature of the reactor problem that affect the risk of radioactive contamination within this 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius or the possibility of low-level radioactive materials reaching greater distances.  For the latest U.S. Government information on the situation in Japan, please go to the Department of State’s Consular Affairs’ website.  Information about nuclear radiation exposure risks can be obtained from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and from the Centers for Disease Control.As a result of this assessment, the State Department has authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the U.S. Consulate in Nagoya, the Foreign Service Institute Field School in Yokohama and the prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi.  U.S. citizens should defer all travel to the evacuation zone around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami and tourism and non-essential travel to the rest of Japan at this time. Commercial flights have resumed at all airports that were closed by the earthquake, except Sendai Airport, and commercial seats are available at the time of this posting.  In Tokyo, most public transportation including trains and subways are operating.  Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan, particularly in the Miyagi prefecture where government checkpoints have been established on damaged roadways.  In Iwate Prefecture, toll road highways are restricted to emergency vehicles only.The Department of State is working to assist U.S. citizens to depart from affected areas.  U.S. citizens in Tokyo should review our Japan Earthquake/Pacific Tsunami webpage for updated departure-related information. Hardships caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami continue to cause severe difficulties for people in the areas affected by the disaster.  Temporary shortages of water and food supplies may occur in affected areas of Japan due to power and transportation disruptions.  Telephone services have also been disrupted in affected areas; where possible, you may be able to contact family members using text message or social media such as Facebook or Twitter.Rolling power outages continue in the Tokyo Metropolitan area and areas in northeast Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami.  The Tokyo Electric Power Company reports that three-hour outages may occur in various regions, including Tokyo.  Please monitor the Tokyo Electric Power Company website, and local news media for specific information and schedules for the planned outages.  Radio stations in the Tokyo area that have emergency information in English include the U.S. Armed Forces station at 810AM and InterFM (76.1FM).Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a massive earthquake such as this one.  The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of aftershocks, persons should move to open spaces away from walls, windows, buildings, and other structures that may collapse, and should be alert to the danger of falling debris.  If you are indoors, DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON:  If possible, seek cover under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm.  If there is no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you.  Avoid damaged buildings and downed power lines.  Great care should be used with matches, lighters, candles, or any open flame due to the possibility of disrupted gas lines.Due to the continuing possibility of strong aftershocks, Japan remains at risk for further tsunamis.  Japanese authorities have issued a warning for people to stay away from low-lying coastal areas.  If a tsunami alert is issued by Japanese authorities, evacuate immediately to higher ground.  Further information about what you can do if a tsunami occurs can be found at the National Weather Service’s TsunamiReady website, and the International Tsunami Information Center’s website.  Current tsunami alerts can be found at the Japan Meteorological Agency website, and the website of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.The U.S. Embassy continues to deploy consular assistance teams where needed; these teams are actively working with our taskforce and local authorities to locate U.S. citizens, visit shelters and assistance centers, and help U.S. citizens identify public and commercial transportation options away from affected areas  U.S. citizens requiring emergency consular assistance should contact the Department of State via e-mail or through the emergency contact numbers below.  U.S. citizens in Japan should contact family and friends in the United States to confirm their well-being at the earliest opportunity.  Where internet and telephone services are not available, it may be possible to contact people using SMS (Cell text message) or other forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. U.S. citizens in Japan are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulates.  By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier fo
r the Embassy/Consulates to contact them in case of emergency.Updated information on travel and security in Japan may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  For further information, please consult the Country Specific Information for Japan, as well as the Worldwide Caution.

Related Resources

Person Finder, Shelter Information, Resources and Links
Google – Crisis Response

Scheduled Blackout
Yahoo! JAPAN Emergency Information (English)

Train Operation in Tokyo Metropolitan area (of Sat 3/20)
JR | Metro | Toei | Tokyu | Odakyu | Keio | Tobu | Keikyu | Keisei | Seibu

The worst of times can bring out the best in everyone, even the yakuza.

I wrote this piece for the Daily Beast and supplied them with confidential materials to vet the article as well. I’d like to say that I’m not an advocate of the yakuza; I don’t consider them generally a force for social good or social welfare.There will certainly be yakuza who take advantage of the crisis to rake in ill-gotten gains; they aren’t boy scouts. There will also be ordinary people doing the same thing.

However, even yakuza are capable of doing heroic acts. There are members of the Inagawa-kai driving trucks of supplies to areas in Tohoku as far as they can get on vehicle and then hiking eight hours, carrying backpacks full of supplies to those in need, even in areas where radiation levels are high. Each individual doing it has their own motives; I can’t read their minds. I think some of them are doing it simply because they want to help their fellow citizens.
It would be an easier world if everything was black and white but often it’s a world in shades of grey.  Sometimes, even “bad guys” can do good things, and ordinary citizens in times of crisis can do awful things. It works both ways.

As far as I’m concerned, everyone risking their life to help the victims of this tragedy, the police, the fire-fighters, the self-sacrificing staff at the nuclear reactor staying on the job, the Japan Self-Defense Forces, the US military, the good  journalists covering the earthquake and nuclear disaster in great detail–they are all heroes.  I’m not counting myself amongst them.

Even Japan’s infamous mafia groups are helping out with the relief efforts and showing a strain of civic duty. Jake Adelstein reports on why the police don’t want you to know about it. Plus, more coverage of Japan’s crisis.

The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s “losers” a.k.a. the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving. The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai-稲川会- (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region. An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza. The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.

for the whole article

UPDATE: The April 4th issue of the weekly magazine 週間大衆 (Shukan Taishu), one of three weekly magazines that features yakuza stories, had a small piece about the impact the earthquake on yakuza society. For example, the memorial service of a Matsuba-kai yakuza boss was called off and other yakuza groups canceling succession ceremonies. The article discusses how the Yamaguchi-gumi was very active in community services after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. At the end of the article, it says that “there are more than a few yakuza who are doing volunteer activities to help the survivors”.  Several yakuza bosses were quoted but neither their names or their group affiliation were disclosed. The article does mention that the three major crime groups were delivering food and water to stricken areas.  A few years ago, fan magazines would have had glossy photos of the yakuza in action but these days, the nine-fingered tribes are all keeping a low-profile amidst the police crack-down. I guess they haven’t discovered good PR firms yet or maybe they’re more concerned about getting the job done than good publicity. Your guess is as good as mine.

This week's 週間大衆 (Shukan Taishu) has a small low-key article on yakuza doing humanitarian work in post-quake Japan.

Please no stealing! (please!)

“If your home was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a tsunami, and radiation from a nuclear power plant, you’d be forgiven for not remaining calm”, speculates Christopher Beam in a recent Slate article. “Yet that’s what many Japanese quake victims appear to be doing. People are forming lines outside supermarkets. Life is “particularly orderly,” according to PBS. “Japanese discipline rules despite disaster,” says a columnist for The Philippine Star.”

Nick Kristof of the NYTimes also observed the same phenomenon during a similiar tragedy in Japan’s history: “Japan’s orderliness and civility often impressed me during my years living in Japan, but never more so than after the Kobe quake. Pretty much the entire port of Kobe was destroyed, with shop windows broken all across the city. I looked all over for a case of looting, or violent jostling over rescue supplies. Finally, I was delighted to find a store owner who told me that he’d been robbed by two men. Somewhat melodramatically, I asked him something like: And were you surprised that fellow Japanese would take advantage of a natural disaster and turn to crime? He looked surprised and responded, as I recall: Who said anything about Japanese. They were foreigners.”

Slate‘s Beam goes on to speculate that the reasons for this uniquely Japanese phenomenon run deeper than the oft-invoked ‘culture’ argument (which, he also mentions, is at any rate fallacious for employing circular reasoning). ‘Structural’ differences, such as the long-standing reward system for honesty, a ubiquitous police presence, and the ironically crime-reducing organized crime groups, may help to reinforce the cultural expectation of group over individual.

Jake also contributed information about how the yakuza are keeping looting down and even assisting, on a fairly large scale, in the tsunami relief efforts; “The Sumiyoshi-kai claims to have shipped over 40 tons of [humanitarian aid] supplies nationwide and I believe that’s a conservative estimate.”

For the full Slate article, please go here

For the Nick Kristof blog, go here

There are 22 organized crime groups in Japan. The top three groups and others are distributing humanitarian aid all over Japan, partly for PR, partly as part of living up to their self-professed codes of 任侠道 (ninkyodo). (List taken from National Police Agency Report 2010)

Updated list: How to donate to relief efforts in Japan

Note: This is an updated list from the previous entry. If you have anything to add, please let us know in the comments.

For those who are interested in contributing to relief and recovery efforts, below are some of the organisations that are taking donations:

Japan Society has created a disaster relief fund to aid victims. 100 percent of contributions will go to organizations that directly help victims recover from the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunamis.

PayPal is giving you the option to donate to several different charities through their website.

Washington DC-based Convoy of Hope is accepting donations. They’re providing food and supplies by working with local organisations inside Japan.

A group called Give 2 Asia is accepting donations to support immediate relief and short-term to long-term recovery projects. According to Reuters, they are currently “working with local advisors based in Tokyo to assess the current situation and to obtain more information on the needs of survivors.”

Donate directly to the Japan Red Cross here, even if you’re abroad.

The American Red Cross is accepting a minimum of $10 to support disaster relief efforts by the group in Japan and affected areas of the Pacific. The Canadian Red Cross also has a special site set up. The British Red Cross and Australian Red Cross are taking donations as well. You can also donate money to the American Red Cross through iTunes.

Global Giving will let you donate on the website or send them a text to contribute funds towards their earthquake and tsunami relief fund.

The Salvation Army are reportedly asking for financial donations and have sent teams from the US to join those already in Japan.

Save the Children has dispatched an international support team to help staff in Japan, and say donations will go to relief efforts.

International Medical Corps has put together teams and supplies to work with partner groups in Japan, and is asking for donations to help throughout the region. They’re also accepting donations through Groupon.

Operation USA is looking for financial donations, “bulk quantities of disaster-appropriate supplies”, and air mile donations through United Airlines Charity Miles program at

Shelter Box is accepting donations to send relief supplies in to affected areas.

Charity Navigator gives ratings to these organisations and more. Make sure your money goes where it counts!

Within Japan:

Time Out Tokyo, which has been providing fantastic updated via both their website and Twitter throughout the disaster, has the most comprehensive information on how to help from within Japan, including information on donating blood in Tokyo.

Google also has some great information on the disaster at their Crisis Response project page. For some of the best updates, check out Gakuranman’s page.

"If the cooling system stops, we could be facing a catastrophe" Nuclear Engineer at FCCJ

Anti-nuclear group, the CNIC (Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center) held a press conference on March 13th, at the Foreign Correspondents Press Club (FCCJ) with Masashi Goto, a former Toshiba engineer who designed containment facilities for nuclear reactors. The following piece was contributed to JSRC by a journalist in attendance. The information is provided as background and her conclusions are based on her knowledge and years spent as a reporter in Japan. (In the last decade there have been several incidents of malfeasance and serious problems at nuclear reactors in Japan that were not earthquake related, though most of you already know this.)

The take-away:

“At present, there’s not an immediate danger of catastrophe. But if the cooling system stops, we could be facing one.”

So the question is, how long before we reach cold shut down?

“It’s hard to say for certain…We don’t know what is going on inside the plant. No one knows…We cannot know in detail what is happening inside the reactor core.

Asking him after the conference, he said the situation changes day by day, but we could know in a week or so, maybe longer, maybe shorter. Readers, please keep in mind this coming from one source. Granted, he’s a very knowledgeable engineer, but he’s one source…


Mr. Goto pointed out the main issue of concern is Fukushima Daiichi. There are two sites, with 10 nuclear generators, 7 of which have the risk of nuclear core meltdown. We move closer to that situation with each day, he says, and not enough has been done to prevent these potential risks.

There are two reactors that pose the highest risk right now, Daiichi unit 1 and unit 3. The control rods to stop the sustained fission reaction worked. But in normal circumstances, it takes days to let those isotopes decay and water needs to circulate as normal to cool the system gradually.

But due to the earthquake’s magnitude and the tsunami, the cooling systems for the reactors failed. So did the back-up diesel generators that would usually generate enough power to keep the cooling system running.

Faced with this emergency, the government employed an adhoc extreme measure of filling the entire containment vessel with sea water to keep the reactor cool. These containment vessels are already at 1.5x the pressure they are designed to withstand because of the temperature and steam. They can withstand 2x to 5x the amount of pressure they’re designed for (depending on the ground conditions on which they are built, etc.).

If the reactors can cool to cold shutdown by continuing this measure of circulating sea water, then we can avert meltdown. (A meltdown is the physical reaction that occurs when the rods get so hot that they melt and that radioactive material mixes with water inside the container causing a ‘steam explosion’ of radioactive particles.) He said that this is something akin to what happened at Chernobyl. Remember that the explosion we had the other day at Daiichi was a hydrogen explosion, not a steam explosion. Also, steam that is vented is a controlled method of releasing pressure from the container.

The problem we face now is that there has already been some melting of the rods, but they don’t know how much. We have already had radioactive material released into the air and more could be released if the cooling down doesn’t happen quickly enough (since more contaminated steam will have to be vented) or if other factors complicate the cooling.

I asked him afterward what would be a good time-frame for knowing whether the government’s cooling system (using sea water) is a success. Success, remember, is cold shutdown. He said it’s hard to tell, perhaps a week, maybe longer.>The situation changes day by day.

EDITOR’S NOTE (JAKE): There is another expert in the field who believes that Japan is in little danger, Dr. Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT in Boston. What he says makes sense to me but on a purely gut level I tend to give Masashi Goto’s views on the situation a little more credence, simply because of his actual working experience in Japan.

For those in Japan: Protecting yourself from nuclear radiation. What you can do.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor (福島第一原発)in Fukushima Prefecture has seriously malfunctioned. The Tokyo government announced on the 15th that levels of radiation in Shinjuku-ward were at their peak as high as 21 times the normal levels but that it is not at a level where imminent physical harm is even a possibility. Whether that’s within a safe range or not, I don’t know. It may simply be a very small increase in the risk of cancer, as one person asserts, like smoking a cigarette. The U.S. Seventh Fleet has moved its ships and aircraft away from the quake-stricken Japanese nuclear power plant after discovering low-level radioactive contamination.

Japanese television was reporting that at least three residents among 90 tested showed excess exposure to radiation. If you are in Japan, and the situation worsens, there are some things you can do protect yourself from nuclear radiation. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a a useful posting here, if the link won’t open for you.

This is the CDC’s guide to the use of iodine tablets, which are difficult to find in Japan but they are sold in some stores. Supposedly they are available around many military bases.  In Japanese it’s ヨウ化カリウム (potassium iodide). The Japanese government is planning to distribute them close to the reactor area. Some multi-vitamins have potassium iodide (from kelp) in them and at a level that is just enough to be the daily requirement. They might be worth taking. Generally, it will list on the supplement as iodine (as potassium iodide). Some will credit the material as coming from kelp. The average adult should have 150 mcgs of iodine for a healthy thyroid gland as the percent daily values for a 2,000 calorie per day diet. There is one supplement available from which contains ample portions and seems relatively benign. The website says that it will be back in stock on the 24th of March. They also note that the maker is donating part of their sales to earthquake relief.  Here’s a picture if you can find some locally. Once again, please talk a physician or someone with medical knowledge about the pros and cons of taking it in addition to your daily diet.

A supplement containing potassium iodide which may be useful in preventing effects from exposure to radiation.

If you cannot speak or read Japanese, please show the following photo to the pharmacy close to you and try to find something containing potassium iodide. Use the pills with caution, and only if it appears that you are at risk to exposure. You should take them proactively. I don’t think taking a multi-vitamin containing potassium iodide would hurt you and may be a reasonable preventive measure. I’m not an expert on nuclear radiation, so please read the CDC faq on radiation emergencies before ingesting pure potassium iodide.

It is one of the worst times in Japan and it is bringing out the best in people. Even the yakuza are chipping in, with the Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai opening their offices as shelters and sending supplies to the reactor site.

Many stores in Japan also sell emergency supply kits (防災キット)which may or may not contain tablets to deal with radiation poisoning. Update: This was posted in the comments but from my limited knowledge of the problem, it’s accurate. “It should also be noted that while flooding your system with iodine will minimize absorption of radioactive iodine – which will otherwise be absorbed into your system, emitting radiation that may kill you – this will not prevent you from absorbing radiation in other ways. The CDC page does mention this, but I think it is very important to emphasize it in case people who do not recall their science classes develop the mistaken belief that as long as they take the pill everything is OK.” I’ve been told that a doctor’s prescription is required to get the tablets and at this point in time, taking them may be more harmful than not taking them.

This is a link to an official geiger counter in Japanese and the same one translated into English for Northern Japan and affected areas . There is a link to an amateur geiger counter in Tokyo in Koto-ward available here. It was made by a science geek with a kit so its reliability is questionable but it’s better than nothing. The normal levels for radiation in Tokyo should be between 10 to 20cpm according to the poster. Due to the rolling black-outs in Tokyo the counter may freeze or be inaccessible at some hours.Good luck and our best wishes to every one in Japan from all of us at the JSRC. For making donations please see previous post. I’m not a nuclear scientist so I can’t tell you what the readings mean. If someone can offer a good explanation of how to read them, it would be appreciated.

iodine tablets for prevention of radiation poisoning. stocked in some pharmacies in Kanagawa Prefecture.

In Battle For King of the Bugs: Saw Beetle Kicks Miyama Beetle Butt New Research Reveals; SEGA Silent on Video Game Repercussions

Nobody expects realism in video games but someday they might. The popular King of Bugs (ムシキング) video games series is one in which players select their bug and fight off arthropod opponents to see who can knock the other out of the ring first. You can play against the computer or you can play against a friend. Real life bug matches between stag beetles (鍬形虫/kuwagatamushi) were a popular games for children in the day before video games and when Japan still hadn’t managed to decimate it’s natural environment.  Generally speaking, when it came to stag beetles, it was thought that all beetles had pretty much the same chance. Well, apparently that’s not the case. And that could have serious repercussions on the pereived accuracy of this gaming classic. (No plans have been announced to revise the board game version or issue a recall.)

Questions have been raised as the accuracy of the Japanese Saw Stag Beetle depiction in the popular King of Bugs (ムシキング)series. Will future editions reflect recent scientific findings?

According the January 18th, 2011 edition of the Asahi Elementary School Newspaper (朝日小学生新聞), Yoshihito Hongo (本郷儀人研究員)a researcher at Kyoto University Graduate School– the Japanese Saw Stag Beetle (ノコギリクワガタ/nokogirikuwagata)is much more likely to win over the Miyama Japanese Stag Beetle in an even fight. This is surprising when you consider that the average Saw Beetle (3.8 centimenter) is smaller than the Miyama Beetle (4.1 centimeters). The secret: the Saw Beetle’s devestating underhand throw (下手投げ/shitatenage).  The two male beetles often fight over women and food.

Hongo-san who was an old school stag beetle fan noticed that in the Kyoto area that the number of Saw Beetles seemed to be growing in recent years. In 2008, he began to study why. After extensive experimentation and fairly staged fights, he was able to determine that out of 224 battles the Saw Beetle won 145 fights and the Miyama Beetle only 99 fights. In most cases, the deciding factor was the underhand throw. The Saw Beetle would crawl under the Miyama Beetle, sandwiching it between its huge jaws and then and toss it into the air, off the playing grid. The Saw Beetle was also able to perform an effective overhand throw as well.

Researcher Hongo’s conclusion: “The Miyama Beetle may be bigger and better looking but it’s all show. When it comes down to it, the underdog wins in this case.” At the time of publication of this article, Sega was unavailable for comment on to whether future editions of the Mushi King series would reflect the latest scientific data which should techinically give players who chose the Saw Beetle an advantage in fights with Miyama Beetles, especially if they utilize the underhand throwing sequence. Memo: I seriously doubt SEGA will even answer my inquiry on this one but can’t hurt to ask. 😀

Bet on the Japanese Saw Stag Beetle!

Happy New Year From All Of US At JSRC To You

It’s almost 2011 everywhere in the world. It’s the first day of the new year where I am now. 2010 was a long, hard year. It ended well. Our humble site was listed on CNN-Go as  one of Japan’s best English language blogs of 2010 | #1. It was an honor. This year we’ll be expanding the number of contributors and the scope of the website, for all those who are curious about the magical kingdom of Japan. We’ll be probing around all dark, shady, shadowy and overcast areas of the land of the rising sun. The sunny side we’ll leave to other people.

Some good things happened this year. The police crackdown on organized crime was so intense that it almost made our April Fools parody post (April 1st, 2010) look like a prophecy. Maybe it was. There were also a number of awful events in 2010 that I’d like to forget about but won’t. The 忘年会 (Bonekai/Forget The Year Party) seems like a good idea in theory but in practice if we forget what we learned in the last year, we just repeat our mistakes the following year. We all know this is true but yet we still manage to do it again every year.

Towards the end of the year, Jee-chan aka @A_Bookaholic did a long interview with me (all via email) and posted it on her website, which is fast becoming one of my favorites for reading advice.  Hooked On Bookz: A_Bookaholic Interviews Author of Tokyo Vice, Jake Adelstein is the title of the interview but it really should be titled What I Learned In 2010. I answered the questions in the middle of a very long bout with the flu and had had an unusually long amount of time to reflect on the questions and everything that happened during the past few months and to try and make some sense of it all. It was a wonderful opportunity to look back before moving forward.

A new year is a great thing. It gives us a feeling that we might be able to start over and get things right. But then again every day should be like that.   I’ll paraphrase the Dalai Lama here: “Every day we are reborn. Every day we are reincarnated. It is this day that is the most important day in our lives. It is our chance to do good, to refrain from evil, to purify our hearts.” A lofty sentiment but I like it.

So Happy Birthday and Happy New Year! May it be a good one for us all. May we all get what we deserve, and maybe some nice things we don’t really deserve, and may the rules of karma apply in the best possible ways. Cheers!