FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

143chap.IIIStruggle Against RadioactivityFUKUSHIMA: Lives on the LineFigure 2: FMU Nuclear Medicine Department monitor on March 15Center (an off-site center in Okuma). However, after the earthquake, there was absolutely no contact from these groups. Despite having no direction or instruction, we braced ourselves to handle radiation exposure and contaminated patients and started screening general patients arriving at the hospital entrance on March 12. The first treatments started in the evening when a patient arrived claiming to have experienced radiation exposure in Futaba.Thereafter, an explosion in Unit 3 Reactor that injured several people was reported on March 14. One of the injured was brought to FMU by ambulance. Since our water supply had been cut off, we were unable to perform full-body decontamination. However, since the patient did not have severe radiation exposure, we partially decontaminated and admitted the patient into the ICU for treatment of external injuries. The patient was released several days later. Another patient sustained external injuries due to the explosion on March 14 and was brought to us in a Self-Defense Forces helicopter.*5 Since the hospital’s water supply was still cut off, full-body decontamination had to be carried out with water from a Self-Defense Forces’ water supply truck. Although we had prepared for this in training, performing it for the first time was an experience fraught with anxiety.At approximately 3:00 pm on March 15, it began to rain in Fukushima City. The alarm at the monitoring station in the FMU nuclear medicine department was sounded, giving the first signal of widespread radiation contamination in the city (Figure 2). In the several days that immediately followed the earthquake, disaster response efforts were believed to apply to evacuees from within the 20–30 kilometers radius of the power plant and those working at the plant. However, it became clear from March 15 that even we, who were 60 kilometers from the area, were also exposed to the risk of being contaminated. Nevertheless, information was hard to come by, with the exception of television, radio, and newspaper reports. We continued to face a series of difficult decisions in an environment with limited information.On March 24, an ambulance brought two patients who had walked through pools of radioactive water when they entered the power plant buildings without wearing protective boots. Once the hospital’s water supply resumed, we made our best attempts to give the patients full-body decontamination treatment, focusing on their legs. However, this was more difficult than anticipated, and after a day of hospitalization, the patients were transferred to NIRS for radiation exposure tests and further treatment of their legs.Twelve patients assumed to be contaminated inside the nuclear power plant were treated by the FMU radiation exposure emergency medical team. Nevertheless, this is a small number considering the level of the nuclear accident. In addition, the injuries handled were relatively minor, which is certainly a miracle of sorts.Irradiated Zone Reaches Our Doorstep!On March 15, the off-site center’s medical unit was transferred to the Fukushima government offices,*5 improving the flow of communication. From there on, we started to receive regular instructions. It was also very heartening to have the support of the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency with the decontamination efforts. The ranks of the radiation medicine emergency response unit were bolstered by the