Last updated: 30 August 2014
Some scientists say authorities in favour of nuclear energy tend to deny the negative results of researchers.
In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March 2011, the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima was badly wrecked in a series of meltdowns and explosions that severely damaged three reactors and one spent-fuel pool.
The accident released enormous quantities of radionuclides (radioactive material) into the atmosphere and the sea. This led to the government setting up exclusion zones in regions around the plant and the evacuation of over 155,000 residents.
Three years on, calculating the injurious effects of this radiation on plant, animal and human health has become a matter of controversy, as different groups of researchers reach different conclusions.
Negative data ignored?
A broad scientific study by a United Nations committee, released earlier this year, was widely criticized by independent researchers for its generally benign findings and lack of reference to the negative data cited in a number of specific scientific studies published earlier. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report on the health impact of the Fukushima accident was signed by 80 scientists and published in April.
In respect to plants and animals, for instance, the UN report concluded, “Accumulated doses (of radiation over the first two months following the accident) were estimated to have fallen short of levels found to cause observable effects…” And for longer term effects, the report noted that while some individuals in species may have been harmed, the effects on plants and animals ” at the population level were considered unlikely to be observable.”
But such statements were made “with the complete absence of any supporting documentation”, said Timothy Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, one of many researchers troubled by such conclusions.
In response to the criticism, Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chair of UNSCEAR pointed out to Al Jazeera that the committee “used data that had been published in the open literature, and some data that had not been published at the time”, and then, “synthesized it for an overall assessment.” So UNSCEAR’s “mandate is for scientific review” of available scientific findings, not conducting its own field research, Larsson explained.
By contrast, Mousseau, as a member of a multidisciplinary group of scientists called the Chernobyl + Fukushima Research Initiative (CFRI), relies heavily on field studies for its reports. CFRI has extensively studied the consequences of radioactive contamination on animals at Chernobyl, the site of the devastating 1986 nuclear accident in Ukraine, and has conducted 10 similar studies in Fukushima since 2011.
Speaking to the foreign press in Tokyo on August 22, following CFRI’s latest findings, Mousseau noted that some half-dozen studies indicating the negative effects of Fukushima radiation had been released before the UNSCEAR report and many more related to Chernobyl effects, “which are quite similar in terms of the radiation and consequences”. Yet these reports “were clearly ignored” by UNSCEAR, which had to be out of “deliberate ignorance”, Mousseau said.