On Aug. 8, the New York Times reported that Japanese officials withheld information about the scope of the nuclear disaster that struck the Fukushima Daiichi power plant this March. Computer forecasts that showed radioactive fallout billowing toward thousands of citizens who had been evacuated to the district of Tsushima were kept quiet by Tokyo in order to avoid enlarging the evacuation zone -- and opening up the politically powerful nuclear industry to further scrutiny. But the coverup, which was tantamount to "murder," according to one resident quoted in the article, is hardly the first time a government swept damning evidence under the rug in order to downplay a catastrophe.
THE CHERNOBYL MELTDOWN
When reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986, the Kremlin kept mum. It wasn't until two days later on April 28, after a radioactive cloud had drifted across much of the Soviet Union and Europe, that Soviet officials finally broke their silence. But the coverup within the Soviet Union was longer and much more insidious. In the days following the explosion, when "everyone in the upper echelons of power knew everything," according to a Ukrainian parliamentary commission report published in 1991, few efforts were made to evacuate people from contaminated areas. Instead, a "criminal disinformation" campaign, as it was later called by the commission's chairman, was undertaken to persuade Ukrainians that nothing was wrong.
The town of Chernobyl, just nine miles from the reactor, was not evacuated until six days after the explosion, at which point radiation in the surrounding area had reached more than 100 times safe levels. Likewise, the district of Narodichi, 68 miles from the reactor, was still home to children until June 1986, according to Time magazine. Although only 50 people have died as a direct result of radiation exposure, according to a 2005 report by the United Nations, thousands of cases of thyroid cancer and leukemia have been linked to the disaster.