Thursday, March 29, 2012

Garden Soil Radiation Test

I found out that City Hall will let you test your garden soil for radiation. So I did.
491.3 Becquerels per kilogram. 

A quick refresher of terms: 
Becquerels tell us the rate at which radiation is being released. 
Microsieverts estimate how much damage is being done by radiation around you. The city measured our general neighborhood at 0.23 microsieverts/hour. If you multiply that number by 8766 (24*365.25 the number of hours per year) you get 2016 microsieverts, or 2 milisieverts per year of exposure. That is about the world average according to Wikipedia. 

The University of Tsukuba (Japan's MIT) has a very easy to read primer on radiation.

 Assuming that it follows standard half life formulas, I made a spreadsheet to determine how much radioactivity I can expect to see as time progresses. (I love making spreadsheets)
(Please note, I am not a scientist, my calculations and theories could be way off.)
Projected Bq/Kg 2012-2020

Projected Bq/Kg 2020-2100
As you can see from the report, about one third of the radioactive contamination is from Cs-134- with a half life of 2 years. So in 8 years, after four half lives that will be below the ability of City Hall's machine to detect. Which leaves the Cs-137, which has a half life of 30 years. This beast will take some time to reduce. We are looking at 120 years for four half-lives, which would bring it to below my totally arbitrary threshold of 20 Bq/Kg. 

Of course, what do the numbers mean? What is a "safe" level of radioactive contamination? The new Japanese government standards for agricultural products is less than 100 Bq/Kg.
They have observed as a very broad rule, about 1% of the Cesium is absorbed into plants. So following that rule, my vegetables should have about 5 Bq/Kg. I do plan on testing the first harvest all of the crops before they reach the table. 

On another note, I plan to try removing some of the Cesium with sunflower roots. The stalks, leaves, and flowers absorb very little, but the roots are said to accumulate Cesium like crazy. 
I plan to grow the sunflowers, pull them up by the roots, and burn the roots to reduce the mass and concentrate it. Then I will send the ashes to TEPCO with a note- "I think you dropped this, thought you might want it back."

(Nuclear Power- Only 100 accidents since 1952...)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fun with prunings

Like an upside down basket

I have a lot of fruit trees for someone who is not a commercial orchardist. So I have lots of nice, flexible water sprouts or suckers every year. Sometimes I make arrows, sometimes I make bentwood sculptures. This year, I made a little play hut for the kids. It wasn't only water sprouts, but also fallen Japanese cedar boughs and lots and lots of split kudzu and wisteria vines.
The cedar boughs form the basic skeleton of the hut. I stabbed them into the ground just a few centimeters in a rough circle. The tips all meet at the top. Then I lashed them together with some kudzu vine that I split into fourths. I took a small cedar bough to make the arch for the door.
Splitting kudzu is easy to do. Just find a nice long piece, and smash the end with a rock until it is frayed. You can then pick it apart and split it in half. I grasp each split half between my thumb and forefinger, and move my hands like I am opening a book. As it splits, sometimes one side gets thinner than the other. Then just pull harder on the fat side, and the split will come back to center.
I lashed a few more cedar boughs around the structure's middle, and then wove kudzu randomly all in and out of the structural members and kudzu. Finally, I took a bunch of water sprouts I pruned from my trees and wove them in and out around the structure. All told, it took about an hour, including gathering the materials. Of course, I spread that hour over 2 weeks.

And as I final touch, I planted pea seeds all around it. In a few weeks they should climb up and cover it. That's the plan anyway.

Not big enough for camping, but plenty big for fun!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Equinox!

Hooray! It is the equinox! That means I can shave off the beard!
Or so I thought. When I mentioned it at the table at dinner, the whole family said "No! We like the short bearded version better than shaved!" so I remain with fur on the face until it just gets too hot to bear.

In other equinox news- here in Japan, it is a national holiday! How about that! We made pizza, planted my potatoes and cleaned up the yard a bit. A very satisfying equinox.
How was yours?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Before and After

This winter I was looking to see how long my beard would get if I didn't trim it (Actually, I was just checking to see if I could make a decent Santa Claus when it starts turning gray). 
Good news- I can do Santa. Bad news, I looked like Chewbacca. Not that I don't admire Chewbacca- he is super cool. But I can't pull off the whole Wookie thing. So in honor of renewing my Driver's Licence, I thought we should give it a trim. So my honey got out the clippers and attacked it.
Before: Chewbacca style

After: Ordinary hairy guy
So I look a lot better now I think. No more wild beards until it starts going gray. But it was fun while it lasted.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Peak Oil and the Coming Nuclear Catastrophe

(Three Mile Island.  Public domain from )
Readers of this blog know that I believe in the Peak Oil theory. If you already know about it, just skip to the next paragraph. Wikipedia says that "Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline." I believe this will trigger a worldwide depression and economic collapse. Heavily populated areas will experience sudden and drastic depopulation. It could even threaten the very existence of geographically large nations.

So, if the worst happens, and everything grinds to a halt, what will happen when the money stops rolling in to the power companies running nuclear plants? Are the technicians going to just keep on working without any money or food? Who is going to keep the spent fuel cooling pools full of water? Or the reactors? What happens if they dry up? I know what happens when they dry up. All hell breaks loose.

I am just worried sick about who will make sure they shut down safely. Frankly, I don't think they will all be shut down correctly. And I don't think the waste will be stored correctly. Hundreds of reactors melting down and venting. Hundreds of spent fuel cooling pools drying up, the fuel rods exposed. So basically, the world is eventually going to become highly contaminated by Cesium 137. So it won't matter if you live in a remote off grid retreat. You will still be breathing the dust with the rest of us.

God, I hope I am wrong.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Panorama Park in 2010,  and a preview of coming attractions
For years now, I have been stubbornly sticking to the definition that Spring in the Northern Hemisphere begins on March 20 or 21, the vernal equinox. But that does seem to skew the seasons. It is definitely spring like by the first of March here. We still have frosts, but not as deep, the birds sound different, and the air feels softer in some way. 
So this year I decided to call Spring from March 1 to May 31, making this the shortest winter in my personal history. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Snow Hangover

Yesterday, a storm passed though, dumping about 30-45cm of wet yet fluffy snow over the area. Since it only snows like that once every few years, the city has never bought snow moving equipment. So this morning our road is a mish-mashed icy bumpcicle of re-frozen slush. It will probably melt by the afternoon. But until it does, I am declaring a snow-hangover and not sending the kids to school!

And to celebrate the snow hangover, we are having an upscale version of the usual rice-browns I make.


  • Cooked Rice (one small bowl per person)(short-grained sticky rice is preferred)
  • Eggs (one per person)
  • Soy sauce (1tsp/person)
  • Cheese
  • Onion (one small)
  • Bacon (one strip/person)

  1. Caramelize the onions over low heat in some butter.
  2. Cook the bacon until crispy.
  3. Mix the rice, eggs, and soy sauce in a medium bowl.
  4. Drop one serving of the egg/rice mixture into the frying pan at medium heat. Sprinkle some cheese over it.
  5. When it looks dry around the edges, flip it.
  6. Cautiously check to make sure the cheese is golden brown, and transfer to the plate. 
  7. Smother with caramelized onion, some bacon bits, and more cheese. Top with some mayo and ketchup.

My "Rice-Browns"