FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

Special InterviewTragedy to TriumphFUKUSHIMA: Lives on the Line155Kikuchi: We have three tasks at hand. First is to assess the health of 2,000,000 Fukushima residents and implement a framework to track this data for the next 30–50 years. Second is to have a lifetime tracking system for thyroid conditions, particularly for patients under 18. Third is to research the effects of mental care and psychiatric issues (e.g., stress and anger).——Please explain each task.Kikuchi: With the passage of time, some of us will pass away and things will change. The number of people unaware of the earthquake will increase and surely some of them will ask, “Why are we continuing with this survey after all these years?” A system that is led by lay people will have limitations, but putting into place a system that will follow through with the assessment of residents’ long-term health is crucial. We will need a national consensus on funding to support such a system. In addition, we will need to tap the camaraderie and support of our fellow citizens. ——There are concerns that covering 100% of the prefecture’s population will be logistically difficult.Kikuchi: We will work on it over our lifetime. However, if we encounter unavoidable obstacles, we will have to limit the survey to those living closest to the nuclear power plant and to those who have been exposed to a high dose of radiation.——Are thyroid exams also very crucial?Kikuchi: Absolutely. This is something we have to thoroughly look into. But there are two sticking points with the thyroid exams. First, there are a few thyroid specialists in each prefecture. Pediatric thyroid examinations cannot be done by just any doctor; thus, there is an urgent need to train more specialists. Second, the precision of the examinations is an issue. The more highly trained the specialist is, the more reliable the examination results are. Consequently, we urgently need specialists who can be relied upon to conduct the most precise and thorough examinations.——Is mental health care also crucial?Kikuchi: This is a truly complicated issue. Happiness comes from being able to have hope for the future and cherish the past. But disaster victims have lost both in a way: they block their past and are unable to see a positive future, thus creating endless anxiety. It is tragic to hear people living in evacuation shelters say, “I am filled with so much anger that I just cannot budge an inch.” Current science tells us that if people do not get up and move around, they build up stress that can contribute to dementia, cancer, and shorter life spans. Securing Safety and Peace of Mind——I hear that thyroid specialists are pouring in from across the country to provide support.Kikuchi: Yes, given the current dire situation, we certainly need the support that is flowing in. Moreover, we have an overwhelming 360,000 children to examine and are severely lacking human resources. This is obvious to anyone who visits the area. We have to provide medical care on many fronts. The thyroid team is not the only team of doctors; we also have the mental health team and the Fukushima health management survey team, among others.——In the past year and a half (since the earthquake), hasn’t the actual child population in Fukushima Prefecture plummeted?Kikuchi: Yes, parents have taken their kids outside the prefecture to “safe places.” But this is problematic from more than just the health care perspective. There is a difference between being “safe” and “anxiety-free.” Safety is a matter of scientific data; being free from anxiety is a matter of finance and sentiment. If the prefectural and central governments are called upon to cover the costs of securing peace of mind, the