Fukushima: science miscommunication by omission
Two years on from the disaster that struck Japan on 11th March 2011, there is much silence related to the scientific reality on the ground in Fukushima. One specific example of deliberate omission of scientific data is found in a multimedia site published by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), intended for the general public. Launched on, on 7th January 2013, it provides a seemingly scientific perspective on nuclear energy and also covers the Fukushima accident. This site is a perfectly illustration of the words of George Orwell, “ignorance is the strength”, in its portrayal of the Fukushima disaster.
As a CNRS researcher based in Japan and working in the field, I am anxious to dissociate myself from what is said in this site. In my opinion, it is aimed at mass indoctrination and at keeping quiet about the situation in Fukushima. My own research focuses on the forms and limitations of human protection in the context of the Fukushima accident. The content of this site is not consistent with the findings of previously published research and with my own results based on work performed in the past two years.
The reasons of my dissociation are given in details in an online article published by a campaigning site called ‘World Network for Saving Children from Radiations’. The first of my objections is that the CNRS site does not reflect the full scientific evidence available today in relation to radiation science. In fact, the site uses questionable estimates of the numbers of victims from radiation exposure in Chernobyl. It also fails to reflect the Chernobyl’s morbidity data provided by the Ukrainian authorities.
In addition, this site aimed at communicating science of nuclear power also attempts to minimise the possible health consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. For example, it omits to account of the radiation effects through trans-generational genomic instability and the so-called bystander effect. Genomic instability describes the delayed radiation effects in the irradiated cell and its progeny. And the bystander effect describes the response of non-irradiated cells to the targeting of a neighbouring cell by radiation. Both effects are thought to be important, in terms of dose effect, at low doses. What is more, the language used in the site is an implicit concession to the radiophobia approach, which attempts to minimise the actual health effect on populations by focusing on people’s fear of radiation instead.
Finally, little is said in the site about the consequences for the region’s inhabitants. According to the CNRS website, in Fukushima “a 20kms zone was delimited where the government is working on de-pollution: no one knows when the few 110.000 residents will be authorised to come back.” But no mention is made of the fact that large areas became uninhabitable 40 km from the plant and even further, and without even making reference to the fact that the definition of the so-called mandatory migration zone was fixed at 20 millisieverts (mSv) per year— four times the criteria used in Chernobyl and twenty times higher than the unacceptability threshold determined by international standard. Besides, people are allowed to stay in the so-called habitation restricted zones, exposed to between 20 to 50 mSv, while they cannot return to zones exposed to over 50 mSv.
It is clear that this site attempts to sweep the consequences of the Fukushima disaster under the carpet. The site appears to caution the business opportunity offered by nuclear energy. If the country has itself a vested interest in nuclear power, it is surprising—to say the least—that one of its own scientific institutions seems to forego independent scientific data when it comes to communicating.
As a scientist working in this field, I believe that the mobilisation of the scientific troops of the CNRS would need to go beyond defending the nuclear energy cause. Instead, it should show a real engagement and provide knowledge about the reality of this post-nuclear accident disaster with scientific integrity. Regarding nuclear issues, we cannot accept any longer the travesty of public science into publicity disguised as science.
CNRS researcher – UMIFRE 19 CNRS-MAEE
French research Institute on Japan, Tokyo
Co-author with Nadine Ribault of a book on Fukushima: Les Sanctuaires de l’abîme – Chronique du désastre de Fukushima