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Weather chief draws flak over plea not to release radiation forecasts

TOKYO — The chief of the Meteorological Society of Japan has drawn flak from within the academic society over a request for member specialists to refrain from releasing forecasts on the spread of radioactive substances from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

In the request posted March 18 on the society’s website, Hiroshi Niino, professor at the University of Tokyo, said such forecasts, which he says carry some uncertainty, ‘‘could jumble up information about the government’s antidisaster countermeasures unnecessarily.’‘

‘‘The basic principle behind antidisaster measures is to enable people to act on unified reliable information,’’ he said.

Niino later said in commenting on the intention he had in issuing the statement, ‘‘If (society members’) forecasts were announced, it would have carried the risk that ordinary people may panic.’‘

But Toshio Yamagata, another University of Tokyo professor who is a member of the society, said meteorological scientists have the responsibility to encourage the government to take the right course of action by announcing their forecasts ‘‘especially when a country is going through a critical situation.’‘

‘‘Our society has degenerated into a bureaucratic entity,’’ he warned.

Niino released an additional statement that can be interpreted as self-defense on the website on April 11, entitled ‘‘a supplement to the (original) message.’‘

In this new statement, he said the principle of keeping information sources unified ‘‘should be applied when a country is going through a critical situation’’ and ‘‘should not be applied now that the release of radioactive substances has been prolonged.’‘

The controversy over Niino’s statements came to light when a series of delays in the release by the government of information related to the spread of radioactive substances have come under intense public scrutiny.

The outcry stemmed partly from revelations that the government has not released much of the data on radiation spread forecasts computed by its Nuclear Safety Technology Center’s computer system, called the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, known as SPEEDI.

The government’s Meteorological Agency itself has been under criticism for not releasing its forecasts on the dissemination of radioactive substances from the Fukushima plant even after it communicated the forecasts to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Meanwhile, the Ibaraki prefectural government said it detected 1,129 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram of launce its research vessel caught on Thursday in waters near its northern border with Fukushima Prefecture, home to the crippled nuclear plant.

The amount above the legal limit of 500 becquerels per kg disappointed the prefecture which would have met requirements for lifting the ban on fishing and shipping the fish if the latest test again showed a level below the limit.

In a related development, the science ministry said it detected trace amounts of radioactive iodine and cesium for the first time in deep seawater in samples taken from more than 200 meters deep on Monday off Ibaraki.

The samples from waters 208 to 582 meters deep plus one from waters 10 meters deep off Chiba Prefecture had 5.8 to 6.0 becquerels of iodine per liter and 9.1 to 12.6 becquerels of cesium, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said.


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