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From Tokyo To Calif., Radiation Tracking Gets Crowdsourced

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The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (Credit: DigitalGlobe)

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (Credit: DigitalGlobe)

SAN FRANCISCO (CNET) — The intensifying nuclear crisis in Japan is raising anxieties on both sides of the Pacific over the potential impacts of radiation exposure, and a relative dearth of official information on radiation levels is leading some to turn to crowdsourced options.

>> Complete Coverage: Disaster In Japan

Japanese officials warned residents living near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to stay indoors after a third explosion at the plant in four days, followed by elevated radiation levels around the plant, which the officials said were high enough to harm human health. Panic was reported in Tokyo, as radiation levels rose to as much as 23 times the normal level, according to some reports.

With official estimations of the threat from radiation across Japan changing rapidly and sometimes inconsistent, a number of real-time amateur radiation monitors have popped up online. A live geiger counter at altTokyo.com updates a graph with data every 60 seconds, and a uStream channel broadcasting the digital display of another Tokyo geiger counter was drawing more than 14,000 viewers earlier today.

A few thousand miles across the Pacific to the east, state and federal officials in Hawaii and West Coast states said they did not anticipate any threats to public health from radiation drifting in from Japan. Despite such reassurances, Arizona-based GeigerCounters.com is seeing a run on radiation monitoring equipment. The site was down for a while following the announcement of the Fukushima leak, and came back online Tuesday morning with this message:

Due to the disaster in Japan, orders for Geiger Counters have outstripped supply. Initial orders were filled immediately from stock on the shelves at our location and the warehouses of our suppliers. But at this point, there are simply not enough detectors available to meet the overwhelming demand. At least one of our suppliers has adopted a “triage” method of doling out the limited supply of detectors remaining until more can come off the factory line.

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The same Arizona company also runs Radiationnetwork.com, a crowd-sourced radiation-monitoring network of roughly a dozen or so unofficial monitoring sites around the United States, updated every three minutes. So far, all monitoring stations report radiation measurements well within normal background levels.

California Dept. of Public Health > Radiation FAQs

It’s important to stress that few if any sources keeping an eye on the situation expect threatening levels of radiation to reach the western hemisphere, but the situation in Japan is still evolving. Meanwhile, there’s still time to get in on the crowd-sourced monitoring effort–the Radiation Network offers monitoring equipment and software to sync up to its radiation map.

(© 2011 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.)

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