RERF plans for research with U.S. institute meet opposition

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

On April 28, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) in Hiroshima announced at a special meeting of the RERF Hiroshima Local Liaison Council that it has offered to support the research of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). One of the missions of NIAID is developing medical countermeasures to terrorist attacks involving radioactive materials. Some members voiced opposition to the move, contending “it will undermine the spirit of Hiroshima.”

Twelve council members, including atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha), local government officials, and medical experts, attended the closed meeting. According to RERF, in February, at the request of NIAID, it offered to support four research projects, including one titled “The influence of aging and exposure to radiation on the immune response to influenza vaccine.”

If the offer is formally accepted, the two organizations will begin to negotiate a contract in August and clarify the details. Though RERF issued individual reports to its council members about this offer, it received a request that more views be heard. Therefore, RERF hastily arranged this special meeting.

After the meeting, Motofumi Asai, one of the council members and president of the Hiroshima Peace Institute of Hiroshima City University, argued, “To use RERF as a countermeasure against nuclear terrorism will undermine the spirit of Hiroshima, which has advocated that human beings cannot coexist with nuclear weapons.” Another council member, Sunao Tsuboi, chairman of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, said, “We cannot help but have the impression that hibakusha will be treated like guinea pigs. I hope these organizations will hold discussions on this matter, giving top priority to the wishes of hibakusha, who have worked to prevent the tragedy of Hiroshima from being repeated.”

Toshiteru Okubo, the chairman of RERF, commented, “We will not embark on such research unless NIAID agrees that RERF will be used for peaceful purposes only. We would like to arrange a meeting to listen to the opinions of hibakusha and the citizens of Hiroshima when we reach the stage of negotiating a contract.”

(Originally published on April 29, 2009)