With a nuclear plant just 240km north of Tokyo still leaking radiation, demand for personal Geiger counters has skyrocketed in the Japanese capital and manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand.
Engineers are battling to plug radiation leaks and bring the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant under control more than two months after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and deadly tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan’s coastline. With many people unsure of who to trust for their information, some buy Geiger counters to check for themselves.
In Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronics mecca, many stores have sold out and are unable to keep up with demand for the devices.
“Nobody even looked at or even knew the name [of the Geiger counter], but ever since the earthquake struck people have become very interested,” said Makoto Ogasawara, sales manager at electronics store Akibaoo. “We are selling 100 times more.”
While progress is slowly being made to bring the disaster under control, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co confirmed on Tuesday that the fuel rods at three reactors at the plant had melted down.
Radioactive traces exceeding national safety standards have been found in various foods grown in areas around the plant, as well as in tap water in places as far away as Tokyo, keeping residents on edge.
“I don’t think that the information you get is the real information in Japan. That’s the problem,” said restaurant chef Bruno Menard, noting that a French company he had checked with that morning for radiation levels had said levels were very high around Fukushima. “Especially when it’s raining, we have to be concerned.”
The sudden boom in demand has left many empty-handed.
“I think I’ll buy one if worst comes to worst, but I heard that they’re all sold out,” 58-year-old Sugehiro Ueyoshi said.
At Fuji Electric, one of Japan’s Geiger counter manufacturers, factory workers have been operating at full shift.
“We are producing four to five times more of the Geiger counter [than usual],” Fuji Electric chief executive Michihiro Kitazawa said.
Most of the Geiger counters at the factory are handmade, which takes roughly three to four months. It makes about a dozen different types, producing about 2,000 per type each month.
Kitazawa said his company has also benefited from efforts to make the devices less complex so anybody can use them.
“Of course, there was the earthquake, but in the past two to three years, we have been trying to produce Geiger counters that are easier to operate,” he said.
However, most of the Geiger counters made at the factory will still be used by those working inside nuclear power plants, prompting the company to carry out rigorous checks to make sure the devices are working correctly.
“We really care about credibility,” Kitazawa said.