British researcher blasts U.N. report on Fukushima cancer risk as unscientific

A British scientist who studied the health effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster panned a United Nations report that virtually dismissed the possibility of higher cancer rates caused by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Keith Baverstock, 73, made the comments during a visit to Tokyo at the invitation of a citizens group related to the Fukushima disaster.

In response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun, Baverstock said a report released in April by the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) was “not qualified to be called ‘scientific’” because it lacked transparency and independent verification. He added that the committee should be disbanded.

The U.N. report said any increase in overall cancer rates among residents of Fukushima Prefecture due to fallout from the accident was unlikely.

However, Baverstock, former head of the radiation-protection program at the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe, said radiation levels shown in the report were enough to cause a spike in cancer rates.

For example, the report said nearly 10,000 workers at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant were exposed to radiation levels exceeding 10 millisieverts over about 18 months following the outbreak of the crisis in March 2011.

Baverstock said such an exposure level was enough to cause an increase in cancer among about 50 of the workers.

After studying the health effects from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Baverstock was the first to point out an increase in thyroid cancer among residents of areas hit by radioactive fallout.

He also questioned UNSCEAR’s neutrality, given that members are nominated by nations that have a vested interest in nuclear power. He noted that such nations provide funds to the committee.

Baverstock also suggested a conflict of interest, as committee members are not required to disclose their history working in the nuclear industry or sign pledges stating that no conflict of interest exists in evaluating radiation risks.

Baverstock said that when he was working for the WHO, he felt constant pressure from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a major promoter of nuclear power. He also questioned why it took more than three years for UNSCEAR to release its Fukushima report.

Referring to what he called inside information, Baverstock raised the possibility that the delay was caused by criticism about the report’s conclusion and the influence of other U.N. agencies, such as the IAEA.
By MASAKAZU HONDA/ Staff Writer December 01, 2014