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High-Tech Bike Share to Monitor Radiation in Fukushima

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Jun Yamadera, CEO of Eyes, Japan Co. Ltd, hopes to launch Fukushima Wheel this spring. Photos by Ari Beser.

AIZU-WAKAMATSU, Fukushima—Irish writer Oscar Wilde once said, “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” Jun Yamadera, a Japanese entrepreneur, says that is the reason he’s committed to keeping his tech company Eyes, Japan Co. Ltd, in Fukushima. We discussed his feelings in a Swiss-style café in his hometown of Aizu Wakamatsu, which is about 75 miles (121 kilometers) from the site of the deadly 2011 nuclear accident.

“The problems in Fukushima are very difficult, but I love to tackle a challenge that nobody has solved,” Yamadera says over a cup of hand-roasted coffee.

Aizu Wakamatsu, famous for its castle, samurai history, and proximity to world-class ski resorts, relies heavily on the tourism industry. However, after the nuclear disaster, the city’s tourism waned drastically. Five years on, and the town is still struggling to attract new visitors.

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The Town of Aizu Wakamatsu, a mountain town in Fukushima prefecture, has seen its tourism rates plummet since the disaster.

“It was like a ghost town,” recalled Yamadera, whose company was focused primarily on Computer generated graphics, webpage design and cyber security at the time. “At first, I couldn’t think of what to do [to bring tourists back], but then I got the idea. Bicycles. What if we distributed free bicycles across the city, in a kind of rideshare program, but ones that use the open source technology developed by Safecast, a network of volunteer scientists committed to more accountable reporting of global radiation levels. The free bicycles could measure radiation and other environmental conditions around them.”

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A graphic shows how Fukushima Wheel can be integrated with your phone via sensors attached to the bicycle and wheel. Graphic courtesy Eyes, Japan Co. Ltd.

“Imagine the bicycle is not just your property,” says Yamadera, “but one that belongs to everyone.”

Wit that idea, Fukushima Wheel was born.

“There is a need for more ridesharing programs like this one. After the earthquake, trains stopped running along the entire east coast. People were stranded all over Tokyo and had to walk miles to get home. If there was a more robust bicycle-share program in place, this wouldn’t have been such a problem. The sharing economy is not just a trend, but global stream.”

Fukushima Wheel encourages eco-friendly visitors and city residents to not only ride bicycles, but also to contribute their environmental readings, he adds. The specially outfitted bicycle features environmental sensors to measure live data such as radiation, temperature, humidity, and pollutants.

This new bike share project is still in the planning stages—Yamadera is currently traveling around the world to spread this idea, and will launch test rides this spring. He hopes to start with stations in in Tokyo, Osaka and Aizuwakamatsu with ten bikes in each station available.

“Most people lack the environmental awareness in their daily lives,” he adds. “We as humans have got to realize we are in the same boat. We should make a more sustainable society, and if the disaster has brought about that revolution, it may end up being the silver lining.”

Ari M. Beser  is the grandson of Lt. Jacob Beser, the only U.S. serviceman aboard both bomb-carrying B-29s. He is traveling through Japan with the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship to report on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima. Using photo essays, videos, and articles, Beser will give voice to people directly affected by nuclear technology today, as well as work with Japanese and Americans to encourage a message of reconciliation and nuclear disarmament. His new book, “The Nuclear Family,” focuses on the American and Japanese perspectives of the atomic bombings. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @aribeser.