Via The New York Times, a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Squelching Efforts to Measure Fukushima Meltdown. Excerpt:
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.”