When Crowdsourced Data Meets Nuclear Power

By Alexis C. Madrigal

A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about how the lack of data about radiation levels inside and outside the Three Mile Island reactor contributed to the panic around the meltdown. Yesterday, we ran a mother's account of the trouble she had securing accurate radioactivity measurements from the Italian government during the Chernobyl situation. Back when I wrote the Three Mile Island story, I hoped that better monitoring technology might change that situation for future nuclear disasters.

But as it turns out, there have been similar problems during the Fukushima nuclear disaster. One of the key problems has been that people aren't sure whether to trust the official measurements, no matter how many of them there are. Today, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci addressed the issue of lack of trust in institutions in her essay, "If We Built a Safer Nuclear Reactor, How Would We Know?"

I think I may have seen the beginnings of a way to build that trust in this crowdsourced map of Geiger counter readings from around Japan. It's one thing to blindly trust the experts. It's quite another to doublecheck them with a distributed network of 215 Geiger counters -- forcing them to earn that trust.

This is DIY science with purpose.

crowdsourced map.jpg

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/when-crowdsourced-data-meets-nuclear-power/73005/