Skip to comments.Radiation Risk: Japanese Scientists took Utility Money
Posted on 12/14/2012 2:07:59 PM PST by null and void
Influential scientists who help set Japan's radiation exposure limits have for years had trips paid for by the country's nuclear plant operators to attend overseas meetings of the world's top academic group on radiation safety. The potential conflict of interest is revealed in one sentence buried in a 600-page parliamentary investigation into last year's Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant disaster and pointed out to The Associated Press by a medical doctor on the 10-person investigation panel.
Some of these same scientists have consistently given optimistic assessments about the health risks of radiation, interviews with the scientists and government documents show. Their pivotal role in setting policy after the March 2011 tsunami and ensuing nuclear meltdowns meant the difference between schoolchildren playing outside or indoors and families staying or evacuating their homes.
One leading scientist, Ohtsura Niwa, acknowledged that the electricity industry pays for flights and hotels to go to meetings of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, and for overseas members visiting Japan. He denied that the funding influences his science and stressed that he stands behind his view that continuing radiation worries about Fukushima are overblown.
"Those who evacuated just want to believe in the dangers of radiation to justify the action they took," Niwa told the AP in an interview.
The official stance of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is that the health risks from radiation become zero only with zero exposure. However, some of the eight Japanese ICRP members do not subscribe to that view, asserting that low-dose radiation is harmless or the risks are negligible.
The doctor on the parliamentary panel, Hisako Sakiyama, is outraged about utility funding for Japan's ICRP members. She fears that radiation standards are being set leniently to limit costly evacuations.
"The assertion of the utilities became the rule. That's ethically unacceptable. People's health is at stake," she said. "The view was twisted, so it came out as though there is no clear evidence of the risks, or that we simply don't know."
The ICRP, based in Ottawa, Canada, does not take a stand on any nation's policy. It is a charity that relies heavily on donations, and members' funding varies by nation. The group brings scientists together to study radiation effects on health and the environment, as well as the impact of disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. In Japan, ICRP members sit on key panels at the prime minister's office and the education ministry that set radiation safety policy.
The Fukushima meltdowns, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, brought a higher level of scrutiny to Japan's nuclear industry, revealing close ties between the regulators and the regulated. Last month, some members of a panel that sets nuclear plant safety standards acknowledged they received research and other grant money from utility companies and plant manufacturers. The funding is not illegal in Japan.
Niwa, the only Japanese member to sit on the main ICRP committee, defended utility support for travel expenses, which comes from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan through another radiation organization. Costs add up, he said, and he has spent tens of thousands of yen (thousands of dollars) of his personal money on ICRP projects and efforts to decontaminate Fukushima. All ICRP members fly economy, except for long flights such as between Argentina and Japan, he said.
The Federation declined comment.
Clouding the debate about radiation risks are the multiple causes of cancer, including diet, smoking and other habits. That's why it is extremely difficult to prove any direct link between an individual's cancer and radiation, or pinpoint where one cause begins and another ends.
The ICRP recommends keeping radiation exposure down to 1 millisievert per year and up to 20 millisieverts in a short-term emergency, a standard that takes into account the lessons of Chernobyl.
"Health risks from annual radiation exposure of 20 millisieverts, the current level for issuance of orders to evacuate an affected area, are quite small particularly when compared against the risks from other carcinogenic factors," the ICRP says.
The risk of getting cancer at 20 millisieverts raises the already existing 25 percent chance by an estimated 0.1 percent, according to French ICRP member Jacques Lochard, who visits Japan often to consult on Fukushima.
While that's low, he says it's not zero, so his view is that you should do all you can to reduce exposure.
Kazuo Sakai, a Japanese ICRP member, said he was interested in debunking that generally accepted view. Known as the "linear no threshold" model of radiation risk, the ICRP-backed position considers radiation harmful even at low doses with no threshold below which exposure is safe.
Sakai called that model a mere "tool," and possibly not scientifically sound.
He said his studies on salamanders and other animal life since the Fukushima disaster have shown no ill effects, including genetic damage, and so humans, exposed to far lower levels of radiation, are safe.
"No serious health effects are expected for regular people," he said.
The parliamentary investigation found that utilities have repeatedly tried to push Japanese ICRP members toward a lenient standard on radiation from as far back as 2007.
Internal records at the Federation of Electric Power Companies obtained by the investigative committee showed officials rejoicing over how their views were getting reflected in ICRP Japan statements.
Even earlier, Sakai received utility money for his research into low-dose radiation during a 1999-2006 tenure at the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, an organization funded by the utilities.
However, he said that before his hiring he anticipated pressures to come up with research favorable to the nuclear industry, and he made it clear his science would not be improperly influenced.
Niwa, a professor at Fukushima Medical University, said that residents need to stay in Fukushima if at all possible, partly because they would face discrimination in marriage elsewhere in Japan from what he said were unfounded fears about radiation and genetic defects.
Setting off such fears are medical checks on the thyroids of Fukushima children that found some nodules or growths that are not cancerous but not normal.
No one knows for sure what this means, but Yoshiharu Yonekura, president of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences and an ICRP member, brushes off the worries and says such abnormalities are common.
The risk is such a non-concern in his mind that he says with a smile: "Low-dose radiation may be even good for you."
(This is my 999th thread posting)...
“Influential scientists who help set Japan’s radiation exposure limits have for years had trips paid for by the country’s nuclear plant operators to attend overseas meetings of the world’s top academic group on radiation safety.”
What? They don’t think they should attend “the world’s top academic group on radiation safety.?” I would think they’d want them to be there.
However, this also shows the opposite of a conflict of interest. These scientists were sent to these international conferences to learn the most recent information and standards. Had these scientists not had their trips subsidized, they would be far less able to make accurate estimations.
The “proof of the pudding” is if they cited information learned at these conferences as part of their assessments.
That is, it is being alleged that because they gave reports that might be considered as favorable to the industry, it implies that the data is neither correct or justifiable. But if this data was originally created by someone who did not have a conflict of interest in any way, then the accusation of impropriety is just slander.
Great news, do the Japanese realize that without irradiation from the nuclear weapons detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki there would never had been Godzilla, Mothra and King Kong? I just don’t think the Japanese realize this important fact.
“Low-dose radiation may be even good for you.”
Strange but true — the phenomenon is called “hormesis”
Well, those movies sure contributed to the Japanesse economy in a big way. ungratefull . . . .
Its all among friends...
You mean some scientist can be bought with money; that they will modify, change, adapt, adhere to loose or flawed science in the name of retaining tenure, federal grants, etc.
I find that hard to believe. Look at global warming now called climate change. I think they should rename thier doctrine to political science for the sake of accuracy.
I wouldn’t rush to conclude that this is a conflict of interest.
In a big government, socialist state, the government would pay scientists to do this, and would impose regulations on the industry which might or might not make sense.
In a private enterprise society, the nuclear plant companies would pay scientists, because they wanted to latest and best scientific advice for what they were doing.
On the whole, the latter system probably makes more sense. Who do you want, a scientist paid as a consultant by the company, or a scientist paid by the taxpayers who is as likely as not to be some kind of left wing lunatic?
After all, where did all those global warmists come from? The government paid them to say what was wanted.
At least you left perhaps the most significant line in your missive for last!
While the Fukushima meltdowns were indeed the worst since Chernobyl, a better comparison, since Chernobyl was not a commercial generator, but an ancient graphite core reactor maintained for its weapons-grade by product, and entirely bereft of containment. Access to the core was through swinging doors. The core was surrounded by stacks of graphite.
The relevant comparison would be “worst since Three Mile Island!”, since Three Mile Island is/was a commercial reactor with full containment. Like Three Mile Island, the Fukushima meltdowns are a further testament to the amazing safety record of commercial reactors in that no commercial reactor has caused an injury to the public - ever. The injuries incurred by technicians and operators were not radiation injuries. No source of electrical energy has even come close to nuclear for its safety, and no energy source has contributed less contamination to our environment.
The “waste” fission products come from uranium removed from the earth, which can, if we wish, be more safely returned to the earth. Before the ore was located and mined it might have contributed to exposure. Real waste can be processed and placed where it will not be accidentally encountered, as it decays to irrelevancy.
There is indeed a credible case, but one which is politically shunned, that exposure to moderate levels of radiation might have health benefits. The Taiwanese government has tracked thousands who were accidentally exposed to cobalt-60 refined into re-bar used to build public housing, offices and stores in Taipei City in 1983. The high radioactivity was only discovered about ten years later. The families that lived in two housing projects have been tracked for well over a decade. They are stable, and their cancer incidence appears to be way below that of control groups. The high exposure group, about 20%, received between 15 and 160 mSieverts/yr, where normal background is about 1 mSievert/yr. Co-60 has a half life of 5.3 years. Where the incidence of all cancers from the comparable Taiwanese population would be about 113/100,000, the exposed apartment dwellers, tracked for almost twenty years, showed 3.5 cancers/100,000. This is a phenomenon that deserves research monies, but monies than have not been spent because of the political clout of religions antinuclear zealots.
This zealotry is comparable to the evil associated with Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring led to the criminal banning of DDT by our EPA in 1973, even after commissioned scientific studies of dangers from DDT showed no risk, an act that directly caused the deaths from malaria of an estimated forty million African children. We will all die, but many of us know the pain and suffering from cancer. For research to be curtailed by ignorant zealotry, by people who probably still believe Al Gore's rising sea levels and anthropomorphic global warming deserve respect, is insufferable.
The medical profession has been for sale for a long time to industry. It was a not so great part of globalization’s, new profit-at-all-cost excess. Industry could care less about killing people and so with their minions, the doctor who assure us that all is fine and dandy.
If doctors do stand up to them, their institutions will be punished by the industry contractor.