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Don't trivialise the effects of radiation on Fukushima people

April 14, 2014


Fukushima municipalities resist suspected bid to downplay radiation exposure



A Foreign Ministry email requesting municipalities affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster to submit residents' internal radiation exposure data for use by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has met a backlash, as the email suggested the data could be used to play down the radiation effects from the disaster, it has been learned.

The ministry sent out the email to 20 local governments in Fukushima Prefecture in mid-March, stating the data was necessary at the request of the IAEA for use in a report on the disaster. The email suggested that the IAEA report is expected to evaluate radiation exposure among residents at lower levels than reports by other international organizations.

About half of the municipalities that received the ministry's email have declined or are going to decline submission of the requested data to the ministry, on the grounds that "the effects of radiation exposure on residents' health could be trivialized" and that "it is senseless to request personal information via email."

The email, dated March 17, was dispatched by an official at the Foreign Ministry's International Nuclear Energy Cooperation Division to 18 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that have installed whole-body counters at hospitals and other facilities, as well as to the Fukushima Prefectural Government and the Namie Town Office. The email read, "The IAEA is making a report on the nuclear disaster," and demanded the municipalities submit residents' radiation exposure data measured by whole-body counters, individual dosimeters and other devices by March 24.

The Mainichi Shimbun interviewed the 20 local governments on April 8 and 9 and found that 10 of them had either refused or were going to refuse to submit the requested data. Asked why they decided to do so, many of them said, "It lacks common sense to request radiation exposure data, which requires careful handling, via email alone," and "The request came in all too sudden and we don't have enough time to sort out the data."

Because the ministry's email stated that the IAEA "is trying to verify that the actual exposure doses are smaller than those in other reports," some municipalities suspected that the report could downplay radiation effects on residents' health. "If the data is used to their advantage, that could invite residents' mistrust," the municipalities told the Mainichi.

In the meantime, eight municipalities have submitted the requested data by deleting residents' names and other personal information or by limiting information to that which has already been publicly released. "We sensed the intention of trivializing radiation effects, but we wanted to see what kind of report they were going to make," one of the municipalities told the Mainichi.

So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) have released their respective reports on the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster, examining the effects of radiation exposure on residents' health.

WHO concluded in its report that residents in the most affected area were exposed to an estimated 12 to 25 millisieverts of radiation in the first year since the outbreak of the disaster and that even though the possibility of an increase in cancer incidence is small, cancer risks would partly increase.

The UNSCEAR report predicted that an adult resident in Fukushima Prefecture would be exposed to 10 millisieverts or less of radiation in their lifetime and that there will be no increase in cancer incidences or birth defects. However, UNSCEAR concluded that there is a possibility of an increase in childhood thyroid cancer risks.

Kenichi Bessho, head of the Foreign Ministry's International Nuclear Energy Cooperation Division, explained the ministry's email request, saying, "We asked municipalities to cooperate within their capacity."

"The IAEA asked us to submit actual measurement data, saying it wanted to produce an objective report. I'd like to refrain from elaborating more on our exchanges with the agency," he said. Bessho added that the ministry was in the course of scrutinizing the data it received from some of the municipalities and that it hasn't yet submitted the data to the IAEA.

The IAEA adopts the position that radiation exposure of 1-20 millisieverts per year is permissible.


The Japanese government has been promoting residents' return to areas affected by the nuclear catastrophe based on the IAEA position and other factors.

April 14, 2014(Mainichi Japan)


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