The National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS) developed a radiation dosage website for Fukushima Prefecture residents following the March 2011 nuclear accident but was forced to drop it due to opposition from the prefectural government, which warned the website would stir up fears, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.
Experts have expressed concern about the prefecture’s reaction, saying failure to conduct effective research into Fukushima residents’ radiation exposure would only lead to public frustration and mistrust.
A proposal to develop a system to estimate radiation dosage through the Internet came up during a closed-door preliminary meeting of the prefecture’s study committee on health management for all Fukushima residents at Fukushima Medical University in Fukushima on May 13 last year.
According to the minutes of the meeting and other information which the Mainichi obtained through a freedom of information request, the NIRS studied a method in April last year to gauge external exposure to radiation for residents and others around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, under instruction from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
The NIRS aimed to cover more than 100,000 residents and felt it necessary to use the Internet to effectively get a good grasp of their activities after the nuclear disaster while their memories were fresh. The institute, headquartered in Chiba, set up a website to assess radiation doses and developed a system to estimate exposure when residents entered their post-disaster activities into the system.
About 10 million yen for the project’s development was financed by the science ministry’s disaster-related subsidies and the system was near completion in May 2011.
Separately, Fukushima Prefecture launched a study on health monitoring in April last year and held a preliminary meeting with experts from the NIRS, Fukushima Medical University, Hiroshima University, Nagasaki University and other institutions, with officials from the central and Fukushima prefectural governments also in attendance.
During the meeting, a professor from Fukushima Medical University proposed having residents record their activities in writing to check their radiation doses. A senior NIRS official requested research via the Internet along with written statements and revealed a plan to hold a briefing on the dosage estimate scheme in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Tamura on May 22, 2011.
However, a high-ranking member of the medical association in the prefecture balked, asking, “Why are you going to do that at this time?” and telling the official to be “careful.” A senior official of the prefectural government’s health and welfare department was also critical of the NIRS initiative, saying, “We don’t want you to hold a briefing that may fuel residents’ anxiety.”
When the preparatory meeting was held May 13 last year, the NIRS website mentioned a plan to unveil the Internet research system but posted a postponement notice one week later.
Research into radiation doses was eventually limited to residents’ answers in writing and interview sheets that were distributed from the end of June last year. But the collection rate at the end of May this year stood at only 22.6 percent.
The NIRS told the Mainichi that it was forced to abandon the Internet research project due to the wishes of the prefecture.
The high-ranking member of the medical association said that the Internet survey may have raised the response rate. The member said the debate on how to utilize the botched Internet survey was insufficient.
A senior official of the prefectural government’s health and welfare department said that he spoke against the briefing in Tamura but that he did not make remarks opposing the system itself. He did not remember exactly what he said.