Tokyo: Criticism of the Japanese government`s handling of the crisis at a radiation-spewing nuclear power plant has increased after an adviser quit to protest what he lambasted as unsafe, slipshod measures.
Toshiso Kosako, a professor at the University of Tokyo`s graduate school and an expert on radiation exposure, announced late Friday that he was stepping down as a government adviser.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan appointed Kosako after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11. The disaster left 26,000 people dead or missing and damaged several reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant — setting off the world`s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
In a tearful news conference, Kosako said he could not stay and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits of 20 millisieverts an hour for elementary schools in areas near the plant.
"I cannot allow this as a scholar," he said. "I feel the government response has been merely to bide time."
Kosako also criticized the government as lacking in transparency in disclosing monitoring of radiation levels around the plant, and as improperly raising the limit of radiation exposure levels for workers at Fukushima Dai-ichi, according to a News agency.
The Prime Minister defended the government`s response as proper.
"We welcome different views among our advisers," Kan told parliament Saturday in response to an opposition legislator`s questions.
A government advisory position is highly respected in Japan, and it is extremely rare for an academic to resign in protest of a government position.
The science and education ministry has repeatedly defended the 20-millisievert limit for radiation exposure as safe, saying that efforts are under way to bring the limit down to 1 millisievert. Some people have expressed concerns, noting that children are more vulnerable to radiation than adults.
Workers in the US nuclear industry are allowed an upper limit of 50 millisieverts per year. A typical individual might absorb 6 millisieverts a year from natural and man-made sources such as X-rays.
Radiation specialists say cumulative doses of 500 millisieverts raise cancer risks. Evidence is less clear on smaller amounts, but in theory, any increased radiation exposure raises the risk of cancer.
Japan, which has 54 nuclear reactors, has long been a major proponent of atomic power, constantly billing its technology as top-rate and super-safe. Japan`s government has also been trying to make deals to build nuclear power plants in other countries, although such attempts are likely to fall flat after the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident.
As the only country in the world to suffer an atomic bombing, as it did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, Japan has long had a powerful anti-nuclear movement, and such protests have become louder recently.
About 1,000 protesters gathered Saturday in Tokyo`s Yoyogi Park, beating drums, shouting "No more nukes" and holding banners that read "Electricity in Tokyo, sacrifice in Fukushima."
"We knew all along nuclear power was dangerous. I just didn`t know how to express myself," said one of the protesters, 50-year-old Yoshiko Nakamura, who was taking part in her second demonstration in two weeks. "This is a great opportunity to send a message and voice my fears."
Such demonstrations have become more frequent, including during the Golden Week holidays, which continue through the weekend and next week.
"What I had feared might happen has become reality," said Kenji Kitamura, a 48-year-old office worker. "It is outrageous children are being exposed to such high levels of radiation."
Also on Saturday, parliament`s lower house approved a special 4 trillion yen ($50 billion) budget to help finance post-tsunami rebuilding efforts, in what officials say will likely be the first installment of reconstruction funding.
The budget now goes to the less powerful upper house, where opposition is unlikely, and the budget is expected to win passage early next week.