15 Japan-Russia Research Projects Discontinued after Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Officials in charge of disease prevention head to an avian flu-infected chicken farm in Chitose, Hokkaido, in March.

At least 15 Japan-Russia joint scientific research projects have been discontinued following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The projects, which were partly subsidized by the Japanese government, were halted due to funding being terminated, among other reasons.

The research related to avian influenza or decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings. There are concerns that such cancellations could cast a shadow on Japan’s measures to tackle important issues.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has checked trends in joint research involving such ministries as the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. Since fiscal 2020, the agriculture ministry worked with Russia on a total of nine joint projects relating to avian flu virus or forest management. However, it decided to stop allocating funds to these projects in November last year due to the invasion.

Avian influenza enters Japan when infected migratory birds travel south from Siberia. In the related joint research, Russian researchers were supposed to collect samples from migratory birds, while Japan’s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) was supposed to analyze the genetic information of the virus to help predict the spread of infection. Yuko Uchida, a group leader in charge at NARO, said, “If we don’t know the infection situation in Russia, Japan’s countermeasures [against avian flu] might be delayed.”

In some cases, universities or other institutions have decided to stop joint research programs on a voluntary basis. The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, under the control of the science ministry, adopted about 15 joint research projects per year until fiscal 2021, allocating about ¥2 million per case annually to Japanese universities and others. However, following the invasion, the organization received a total of four requests from Nagoya University and other institutions to cease projects.

One of these cessation requests related to a planned joint research undertaking between the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and Moscow State University on tsunami associated with volcanic activity. “We decided to suspend our joint project as Japanese and Russian researchers couldn’t carry out mutual visits,” a JAMSTEC official said. “There was no other option.”

In December 2021, two months before the invasion, the science ministry started two projects eyeing joint analysis of the melted-down nuclear fuel at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant’s reactor. However, in April this year, the ministry changed the project to a Japan-only endeavor. A science ministry official said, “It’s difficult for Japan and Russia to share the results of the project.”

Terutaka Kuwahara, a former professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and an expert in science and technology policy, said: “Historically, there have been many cases of wars halting important scientific research. The government should consider a framework to enable continued research in Japan until the international situation improves.”