WASHINGTON, D.C., and TOKYO--The United States is considering major cuts in its support of a 54-year-old study of the Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. This month the Department of Energy (DOE) warned scientists working with the Hiroshima based Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) about reductions that could derail ongoing studies and force layoffs in the group of 40 scientists.
The United States now provides 40% of the $40 million annual budget for the foundation, which was created in 1975 to continue studies of the bombing survivors. The foundation runs three major studies of the life span and health of the 280,000 survivors and their children, plus it maintains a tissue bank and other records. RERF findings have played an important role in developing radiation exposure models and setting international standards, says Michael Fry, a retired radiation scientist in Indianapolis, Indiana. "Anyone in the field will tell you that this population has been very important."
Fry and other scientists say it would be premature to halt the studies when nearly half the survivors are still living. One promising research area involves recent findings that radiation victims suffer unexpectedly higher rates of cardiovascular disease. RERF's top official, radiation researcher Burton Bennett, says the United States also "has a moral obligation to continue" the work. "We would seem to be turning our backs on the survivors," he says.
The U.S. earmarks its funds for several RERF projects, including the longevity study, and pays for roughly one quarter of the foundation's research staff. DOE and the White House budget office are still negotiating the size of the cut. Any deal would have to be acceptable to Congress, which has just begun reviewing every agency's budget request for the fiscal year that begins 1 October. Japanese officials won't say if their country could make up for U.S. cuts, but foundation officials warn that any interruption in funding could degrade the quality of the research.
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