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Japanese gov't withheld report on Chernobyl disaster's health effects

The Japanese government has withheld an investigative report it compiled on health effects from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe despite spending 50 million yen on the survey in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it has been learned.

The government's investigation into the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster began in November 2012 -- the year after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant -- under the then Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)-led administration, and was completed in March 2013 after the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power.

The investigative report denies local documents that confirmed far more serious health hazards from the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union than those recognized by international organizations. An expert familiar with information disclosure points out that the report "should be publicized as a resource for verification from a critical point of view, considering that public money was spent on it" amid sharply divided opinions over nuclear power in Japan.

The investigation was budgeted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and was commissioned to a Tokyo-based consulting firm funded by power companies. A committee set up to evaluate the survey results was chaired by Nagasaki University professor emeritus Shigenobu Nagataki, who formerly served as chairman of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation. The investigative team primarily examined and assessed two local reports -- "Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl accident: Safety for the future" and "Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment."

The "Safety for the future" report, which was compiled by Ukraine's Ministry of Emergencies in 2011, points out that the ratio of healthy workers dealing with post-disaster work in Chernobyl plunged from 67.6 percent in 1988 to 5.4 percent in 2008. The latter report, which was put together by local researchers in 2009, estimates that a total of 985,000 people died from the effects of the Chernobyl disaster between April 1986 and December 2004 after their constant exposure to radiation following the disaster triggered cancer, heart and vein disorders and other ailments.

Both reports claim far more serious health hazards than those recognized by international organs, and gained much public attention here in Japan after the reports were highly publicized in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The Japanese government report's assessment panel examined the two reports with regard to 124 parts concerning blood and lymphatic disorders and analyzed whether radiation dose assessments were carried out where radiation exposure was linked to health damage. The committee also conducted an on-site investigation and concluded that it couldn't find any resources with which they could determine the relationship between exposure doses and health damage, based on scientific grounds.

Subsequently, the science ministry department that was in charge of the survey was moved to the secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in April 2013, and the Japanese government's report was not released. The NRA secretariat eventually placed the report in the National Diet Library by way of the Environment Ministry.

Nagataki told the Mainichi Shimbun, "After we filed the investigation report with the science ministry, the ministry department in charge was shifted to the NRA secretariat, leaving us no clues as to what has become of the report. I felt uncomfortable when I heard the report was kept at the National Diet Library, but I also thought it would be inappropriate for us to demand that the report be released."

A source close to the government told the Mainichi, "The investigation was decided upon under the DPJ administration, and we had to use up the budget. As the government changed hands, we had no intention of proactively publicizing the report." Another government insider said, "Nondisclosure of the report was also intended to avoid causing fear among people in Fukushima. It was also aimed at preventing harmful rumors."

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