With the tragedy that is going on in Japan right now in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and the tsunami that the earthquake created, all eyes are on Japan. The brutal damage to many of the Japanese cities is bad enough but the potential for further damage with the serious problems with some of the Japanese nuclear power plants poses possibly a greater threat if the reactors can't be repaired.
Some reports have surfaced from purported experts around the world that claim Japan may be underplaying the severity and the potential for further disaster with the nuclear power plants that are damaged. A small amount of radiation has already admittedly escaped from one of the damaged reactors and some fear that further radiation leaks might occur.
The reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power station automatically shut down after the quake and most of the damage was reportedly the result of the tsunami. Despite the reactors shutting down after the quake, there have been issues with the cooling systems leading some to fear a meltdown might occur. There is nothing that most people living in the area of a nuclear plant can do to stop a disaster such as the one in Japan.
However, there are things that people that live near nuclear reactors in any part of the world can do to help stay informed. With much of the focus on the damage to these nuclear reactors, determining how much radiation has escaped in an area after a natural disaster such as this is impossible without some equipment such as a Geiger counter.
You might think a Geiger counter is something that only the military and universities could afford, but that isn’t the case. Individuals can find Geiger counters that they can afford online at many places including Amazon.com.
Amazon sells a digital Geiger counter that can take real-time radiation readings and display the count and radiation level in mR/hr and mSv.ht. It can also measure background radiation with 1 minute or 5 minute readings in uR/hr and uSv/hr. The tool is designed for scientific use and as an industrial tool. It has a 16 character two-line LCD and sells for about $400.
You can also pick up old school looking Geiger counters from surplus stores such as this Gamma Radiation detector or Geiger counter CDV-715 from Coleman's Military Surplus for under $80. The company claims that the device has been tested and is functional and it can detect high levels of gamma radiation only. The device is rugged and watertight and it operates on d-cell batteries. The thing was made in the 60's for civil defense after a nuclear meltdown or attack. You see this type of device in many films from the Cold War era.
Those needing something a bit more new school for personal use or for research and industrial needs can check out the Geiger Counter from 3B Scientific that has a digital readout. The device measures α-, β- and γ-radiation with precision. It includes Windows PC software and a USB cable for connecting to a computer. The device has internal memory that allows it to store background readings weekly for up to ten years for ongoing monitoring of radiation levels at a given site. The 3B Scientific Geiger Counter sells for $549.
X-Treme Geek also has a portable Geiger counter that is out of stock right now. The thing has a range of 0-100uSv/Hr and 0-10 mR/Hr (logarithmic) and sells for $269. It will beep above 10mR/hr and the beeping will get stronger or quieter in correlation with the amount of radiation.
Another military surplus Geiger counter that might interest some comes from DicksArmySurplus. This unit is a Swedish Military surplus offering that sells for $329. It comes inside a protective wooden box and the only downside with this unit is that it is not tested. It comes with a sensor and a cable and appears to be more for collectors unless you have a way to test the thing.