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Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011

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Hot water: Hiroko Aki of Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture, uses a becquerel counter Tuesday at the newly opened Bec-Miru facility in Kashiwa to check well water from her home for radiation. YOSHIAKI MIURA

Facility in Chiba lets public test for radiation


Staff writer

KASHIWA, Chiba Pref. — People concerned about radiation in their food, water and the soil at nearby playgrounds thronged to a new facility that opened Tuesday in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture — a well-known radiation hot spot — that will allow users to measure radiation levels at an affordable price.

"People can bring in whatever they want here and test the level of radiation themselves," Motohiro Takamatsu, 47, representative of the Bec-Miru facility, told The Japan Times.

Takamatsu's facility, about a six-minute walk from JR Kashiwa Station, boasts sofas, a playground and a pastel-colored reception area where six staff members greet customers. In the back of the room are eight state-of-the-art becquerel counters, which Takamatsu imported from German company Berthold Technologies and has made available to locals for a fee.

"Those machines capture gamma rays, meaning they can't detect the levels of plutonium or strontium. They are for measuring levels of cesium" in any given product, Takamatsu explained.

The LB 2045 gamma spectroscopy system, which costs about ¥2.5 million each, can detect the level of cesium contamination down to a minimum of 10 becquerels from a 1-kg specimen in about 15 to 20 minutes.

Customers will be able to use the machine for 20 minutes for ¥3,980. The LB 200 models, which cost ¥1 million each, are able to detect cesium contamination levels of a minimum of 20 becquerels and will be available for ¥980 per 20 minutes.

"We have set up four LB 2045 machines and four LB 200 models," Takamatsu said. "We need to have at least 40 to 50 customers a day to make ends meet."

Takamatsu, who has two preteen daughters and works as a software engineer in the city, was originally planning to purchase a new car with the money he had saved up from his job.

But after the March 11 disaster struck and news broke that parts of northwestern Chiba could be heavily contaminated, the safety of food and soil became the priority for him as well as other parents in the area.

He decided to purchase German spectroscopy systems in June, hoping they would provide a sense of safety for locals concerned with radiation. Thanks to his investment, residents of northwestern Chiba Prefecture, where high levels of cesium were detected in areas around Kashiwa and Nagareyama, can now take the matter into their own hands.

Customers, who will need to make reservations before using the machines, are expected to bring in anything from garden soil, rice, meat, vegetables and even mother's milk. They will be operating the machines on their own after an on-site briefing by staff.

Takamatsu had no prior knowledge of radiology but read books, contacted college professors and experts in the field and eventually gained expertise.

"We've been testing the machines, and some of the local soil actually surpassed the 10,000-becquerel mark," Takamatsu said.

To avoid any hazard to the store staff and others, every specimen customers bring in will undergo quick tests at the entrance for any serious radioactive contamination.

"If the contamination passes 1 microsievert at that point, which roughly translates to at least 100,000 becquerels, we will not allow our customers to use the machines," Takamatsu said.

Junko Kasahara, who runs a small organic farm with her husband in nearby Nagareyama, was one of the first in line Tuesday.

"We've had eggs, cabbage, onions, pumpkins and other products tested at other research facilities, but it costs ¥15,000 every time, plus the results only become available after a week," the 37-year-old Kasahara said.

On Tuesday, Kasahara brought in some soil and leafy vegetables from her farm to have them tested at Bec-Miru.

"They showed no contamination and were safe," she said, noting the quick service and the affordable price will not only come in handy for her but for providing quick information to her customers as well. "The store is very easy to access, and I will probably do the preliminary checks here."



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