Accurate information regarding the true extent and environmental costs of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has been hard to come by, and according to a piece published in the New York Times on Sunday, that may be because researchers have been hampered by intimidation and fear.
Speaking both with top university researchers in Japan and international scientists who have traveled to study the effects of the nuclear fallout, the New York Times reports that many attempts to study the radiation have been obstructed by lack of funding or support. In some cases, professors were told explicitly not to measure radiation in the surrounding prefectures and to steer clear of data that might cause public "concern."
Timothy A. Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina who has written widely on Chernobyl, told the Times that his multiple research trips to the country were "difficult," with Japanese colleagues dropping out of a joint research paper because they "could not risk association with his findings."
“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. He added, however, that the “more insidious censorship” is the lack of funding at a national level for these kinds of studies.
“They’re putting trillions of yen into moving dirt around and almost nothing into environmental assessment,” he said, referring to the ongoing effort to remove radioactive soil from the surrounding area.
“Getting involved in this sort of research is dangerous politically,” added Joji Otaki, a biologist at Japan’s Ryukyu University who has relied on private donations and crowd-funding for his work.
Following publication of the article, the New York Times printed this corrective statement: "An earlier version of the headline with this article misstated the actions of the Japanese government. There are deep differences over how to determine the health impact of the Fukushima disaster. The authorities are not 'squelching' efforts to measure the effects of the accident."