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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

"Talking" dosimeters for the blind

January 28, 2013


Dosimeter for the blind still in demand a year later




By TERUHIKO NOSE/ Staff Writer

FUKUSHIMA--Masahiko Nakamura quickly grasped that dosimeters with displays were of virtually no use to visually impaired residents of Fukushima Prefecture after the nuclear disaster in March 2011.

So he decided to do something about it.

Nakamura, 66, developed a dosimeter that provides voice readings on radiation exposure levels.

He developed the "talking" dosimeter in the aftermath of the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Hundreds of the devices have been sold in the year since they became available.

When a user presses an orange button, the device reads out hourly radiation doses in a woman's voice. The readings are in 0.01 microsievert.

Nakamura, who holds a senior position at the Fukushima prefectural association of the blind, worked closely with a local manufacturer to develop the device.

"My aim is for the device to reach more disabled people," said Nakamura, who formerly taught at a school for people with disabilities.

Nine days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, which spawned towering tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered the nuclear disaster, Nakamura quit his post as a professor at a junior college so he could offer support to survivors and their families. He drove more than 10,000 kilometers in three months, providing the help that people needed.

He contacted the manufacturer after learning that visually impaired people were desperate to measure radiation doses themselves, rather than rely on others to inform them when they were in danger.

Nakamura visited the company more than 20 times to discuss all sorts of details, such as the color and location of the button that activates the voice reading and whether a man's or woman's voice is more effective.

His dosimeter went on sale last January. Since then, about 350 units have been sold in Fukushima Prefecture and elsewhere. The price was lowered from 50,000 yen ($550) to 38,000 yen this month.

The Japan Federation of the Blind donated 104 of them to Nakamura's association on Jan. 18. It was an emotional moment as 30 or so visually impaired persons were gathered there at the time. They broke into applause when the device said "0.12 microsievert."

A number of people with disabilities, including his former students, perished in the tsunami. Nakamura tormented himself with questions about why they could not be saved.

This resulted in a book, "Ato Sukoshi no Shien ga Areba" (Had there been a little more support), based on interviews with more than 100 individuals, including former students. The book explains how people with disabilities evacuated and the ordeal they faced.

Nakamura often visits the homes of people with disabilities. He assists them in applying for compensation over radioactive fallout from the stricken Fukushima power plant, and also explains documents on rebuilding efforts.

"Many disabled people have put up with (difficulties) without uttering a word," Nakamura said. "I want to speak up for them."


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