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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Not enough done about Fukushima residents' health

March 8, 2013

Editorial: Gov't needs to do more in managing Fukushima residents' health




The World Health Organization (WHO) recently compiled estimates on residents' risk of cancer from the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

In its health risk assessment report, the WHO said it was unlikely that cancer would increase among the general population in Fukushima Prefecture. It was predicted that in some areas, infants would face an increased risk of developing cancer, but the absolute increase in risk was thought to be small.

The report offers some reassurance for Fukushima Prefecture residents, but that doesn't mean they can now go away happy.

Since the outbreak of the ongoing nuclear disaster, residents and their families have worried about how much radiation they have been exposed to, whether it has affected their health, and whether they face a continued risk living in the prefecture. Besides responding to these concerns, there are other risks to consider in the protection of people's health. But nearly two years after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster the efforts of the central government and prefectural governments remain insufficient.

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has provided suggestions pertaining to a health monitoring survey that the Fukushima Prefectural Government is conducting on its residents. It states that the central government needs to take responsibility and offer continued support, but there is a need to go further than this.

The deputy chair of the Fukushima Medical Association, who was part of the team reviewing the health checks, suggested that checks be carried out under the direct control of the central government, and that a central government base be set up in Fukushima Prefecture to support the health of prefectural residents and people working there. We would like to see officials probe the feasibility of these suggestions.

The NRA also suggested that surveys on people's activities after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster be enhanced to gain a more accurate picture of how much radiation each resident was exposed to. But this is probably impossible.

To determine each person's radiation exposure, officials have asked residents to remember in detail their activities over the four months following the onset of the Fukushima disaster, and write down those activities on forms. However, this is a task that officials should have been pouring effort into immediately after the outbreak of the disaster. It is difficult, now, for people to accurately recall what happened after such a long time. Not surprisingly, less than 30 percent of residents have responded to the request.

Ryugo Hayano, a professor at the University of Tokyo, has advanced a project to estimate people's internal exposure to radioactive iodine during the early stages of the nuclear disaster using global positioning system data from their mobile phones to track down where they were at the time. More efforts like this are necessary.

It is problematic that local measurements of people's internal radiation exposure and measurements of their external radiation exposure from dosimeters are not managed centrally. A system needs to be set up to gather and uniformly manage the data, and give residents a comprehensive overview of radiation exposure.

To determine and estimate people's radiation exposure and manage people's health, the central government and local bodies need to eliminate the system of vertically layered administrative functions and join hands in a combined effort.

It remains unclear whom the NRA's suggestions are directed at, or how effective they are, but this is not the time for officials to be shifting responsibility. We call on the Ministry of the Environment and other related organizations to decide on the organization that will play a central role, and quickly prepare a system to handle the situation.


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