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Japanese scientists who set radiation exposure limits took utility's money

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 10:12 p.m.

TOKYO — Influential scientists who help set Japan's radiation exposure limits for years have 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 Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster and pointed out 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.

The official stance of the International Commission on Radiological Protection is that the health risks from radiation become zero only with zero exposure. 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.

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