Why things don’t add up at Fukushima – Concerns Over Measurement of Fukushima Fallout

Note to readers: Some days after my initial cut and paste of this article from the New York Times, I revisited the NYT site to find editorial changes and a correction had occurred. On 14 March 2014 the article headline had changed from “Squelching Efforts to Measure Fukushima Meltdown” to “Concerns Over Measurement of Fukushima Fallout”. So I have changed my headline to reflect this. The New York Times has added the following at the bottom of the text to the article: “Correction: March 17, 2014 An earlier version of the headline with this article misstated the actions of the Japanese government. There are deep differences over how to determine the health impact of the Fukushima disaster. The authorities are not ‘‘squelching” efforts to measure the effects of the accident.” To Australian readers who remember the story of Dr. Marston and the British nuclear tests I would suggest we are seeing a similar cultural event in Japan. When the power elite wish to push a particular barrow, that elite, be it political, military or whatever, are quite capable of the social engineering needed to make their dreams comes true at the expense of the needs and wishes of ordinary who occupy the living space affected. Apparently this aspect of Japanese nuclear culture is powerful enough to reach right into the editorial offices of the New York Times. Reference to Dr Marston: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedley_Marston “In the 1950s, Marston’s research into fallout from the British nuclear tests at Maralinga brought Marston into bitter conflict with the government appointed Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee. He was vindicated posthumously by the McClelland Royal Commission, which found that significant radiation hazards existed at many of the Maralinga test sites long after the tests.

His project also tracked fallout across the continent by examining the thyroids of sheep and cattle as well as devices that filtered radioactive elements from air. Later the results, which showed dramatic increases of certain radioactive elements after British Nuclear Tests, caused a further, controversial study where the bones of deceased people (especially children) were burnt to ash and then measured for Strontium-90. These tests showed that the tests had increased the concentration of Strontium-90 dramatically. As well as finding this after British tests a notable 50% increase was noticed one year when there were no tests and it was cited as evidence that the previous years hydrogen bomb tests had contaminated the majority of the world.” Marston was threatened by government agents, had his work censored and delayed, had his private mail opened by security services and was accused of being a communist. In the 1980s a Royal Commission in Australia found that his main opponent, the Chair of Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee, Prof. Titterton was an agent of two foreign power, Britain and the United States. Tittle admitted that he was prevented by secrecy oaths he had taken to those two powers in his disclosures to government and the public of the fallout hazards present in Australia at the time.

There comes a time when media organizations need to determine whether or not they will record the truth, the whole truth and so as is possible, nothing but truth, barring declared advertising. Hopefully NYT does this. And does not bow to pressure to do the opposite.


The New York Times
Asia Pacific
Concerns Over Measurement of Fukushima Fallout


TOKYO — In the chaotic, fearful weeks after the Fukushima nuclear crisis began, in March 2011, researchers struggled to measure the radioactive fallout unleashed on the public. Michio Aoyama’s initial findings were more startling than most. As a senior scientist at the Japanese government’s Meteorological Research Institute, he said levels of radioactive cesium 137 in the surface water of the Pacific Ocean could be 10,000 times as high as contamination after Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Two months later, as Mr. Aoyama prepared to publish his findings in a short, nonpeer-reviewed article for Nature, the director general of the institute called with an unusual demand — that Mr. Aoyama remove his own name from the paper.

“He said there were points he didn’t understand, or want to understand,” the researcher recalled. “I was later told that he did not want to say that Fukushima radioactivity was worse than Chernobyl.” The head of the institute, who has since retired, declined to comment for this article. Mr. Aoyama asked for his name to be removed, he said, and the article was not published.

The pressure he felt is not unusual — only his decision to speak about it. Off the record, university researchers in Japan say that even now, three years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, they feel under pressure to play down the impact of the disaster. Some say they cannot get funds or university support for their work. In several cases, the professors say, they have been obstructed or told to steer clear of data that might cause public “concern.”

“Getting involved in this sort of research is dangerous politically,” said Joji Otaki, a biologist at Japan’s Ryukyu University who has written papers suggesting that radioactivity at Fukushima has triggered inherited deformities in a species of butterfly. His research is paid for through private donations, including crowdfunding, a sign, he said, that the public supports his work. “It’s an exceptional situation,” he said.

The precise health impact of the Fukushima disaster is disputed. The government has defined mandatory evacuation zones around the Daiichi plant as areas where cumulative dose levels might reach 20 millisieverts per year, the typical worldwide limit for nuclear-power-plant workers. The limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection is one millisievert per year for the public, though some scientists argue that below 100 millisieverts the threat of increased cancers is negligible.

In an effort to lower radiation and persuade about 155,000 people to return home, the government is trying to decontaminate a large area by scraping away millions of tons of radioactive dirt and storing it in temporary dumps. Experts at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology put the cost of this project at $50 billion — widely considered an underestimate.

The chance to study in this real-life laboratory has drawn a small number of researchers from around the world. Timothy A. Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina who has written widely on Chernobyl, studies the impact of radiation on bird and insect life. He has published papers suggesting abnormalities and defects in some Fukushima species. But he said his three research excursions to Japan had been difficult.

In one case, a Japanese professor and two postdoctoral students dropped out of a joint research paper, telling him they could not risk association with his findings. “They felt it was too provocative and controversial,” he said, “and the postdocs were worried it could hamper their future job prospects.”

Mr. Mousseau is careful to avoid comparisons with the Soviet Union, which arrested and even imprisoned scientists who studied Chernobyl. Nevertheless, he finds the lukewarm support for studies in Japan troubling: “It’s pretty clear that there is self-censorship or professors have been warned by their superiors that they must be very, very careful,” he said.

The “more insidious censorship” is the lack of funding at a national level for these kinds of studies, he added. “They’re putting trillions of yen into moving dirt around and almost nothing into environmental assessment.”

Long before an earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima meltdown, critics questioned the influence of Japan’s powerful nuclear lobby over the country’s top universities. Some professors say their careers have been hobbled because they expressed doubts about the nation’s nuclear policy and the coalition of bureaucrats, industrialists, politicians and elite academics who created it.

Mr. Aoyama, who now works at Fukushima University, sees no evidence of an organized conspiracy in the lack of openness about radiation levels — just official timidity. Despite the problems with his Nature article, he has written or co-written eight published papers since 2011 on coastal water pollution and other radiation-linked themes.

But stories of problems with Fukushima-related research are common, he said, including accounts of several professors’ being told not to measure radiation in the surrounding prefectures. “There are so many issues in our community,” he said. “The key phrase is ‘don’t cause panic.”’

He is also critical of the flood of false rumors circulating about the reach of Fukushima’s radioactive payload.

Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s department of marine chemistry and geochemistry, in Massachusetts, who has worked with Mr. Aoyama, said he has spent much of his professional energy fighting the rumor mill. The cause is not helped, he added, by institutional attempts to gag Japanese professors.

“Researchers are told not to talk to the press, or they don’t feel comfortable about talking to the press without permission,” Mr. Buesseler said. A veteran of three post-earthquake research trips to Japan, he wants the authorities to put more money into investigating the impact on the food chain of Fukushima’s release of cesium and strontium. “Why isn’t the Japanese government paying for this, since they have most to gain?”

One reason, critics say, is that after a period of national soul searching, when it looked as if Japan might scrap its commercial reactors, the government is again supporting nuclear power. Since the conservative Liberal Democrats returned to power, in late 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun trying to sell Japan’s nuclear technology abroad.

Professors, meanwhile, say that rather than simply defend what is a piecemeal approach to studying the disaster, the government should take the lead in creating a large, publicly financed project.

“If we’ve ever going to make any headway into the environmental impact of these disasters, statistical power, scientific power, is what counts,” said Mr. Mousseau of the University of South Carolina. “We get at it with massive replication, by going to hundreds of locations. That costs money.” end quote

This suppression of research via the harassment of researchers in Japan has been occurring throughout Japan’s atomic age and came to a head immediately post Fukushima.

On 3 April 2013 I received an email from a US researcher who was working in Japan with Japanese researchers. His email read in part: “As for Japanese researchers, I m not sure about effects on careers. However, it is clear that there is self censorship going on, presumably motivated by fears of negative impacts on their careers. Several of our collaborators were reluctant to be co-authors on our papers. And I have heard similar stories from others (you could ask Ken Bueseller at Woods Hole for his experience). Best wishes,…..University of South Carolina”

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