FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line
180Lessons from ChernobylIMPACTS ON HEALTH OF PEOPLE IN CHERNOBYLIn 2006, 20 years after the Chernobyl accident, the World Health Organization (WHO) evaluated impacts on health of people in Chernobyl dealing with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The materials the group of experts examined were mainly internationally-reviewed manuscripts. They also used publications in countries around Chernobyl (The Republic of Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine). Those experts primarily evaluated two health-related issues3). One of the issues was health impacts which were directly related to radiation exposure, and the other was diseases that were not thought to be directly related to radiation exposure, however, the relation with the accident could be in doubt. After the evaluation, they submitted a report to the relevant governments.The results showed the drastic increase of thyroid-gland cancer among children who had been younger than 15 years at the time of the accident. According to the report, nearly 5,000 operations of thyroid-gland cancer have been implemented for children in this age group in Russian regions around Chernobyl, Ukraine, and The Republic of Belarus by 2002 (the number of operations increased to 6,000 by 2006). The age predilection is about to move to 25 or older to middle aged. As described above, the increase in thyroid cancer in infants attributed to excess internal exposure to thyroid gland via ingestion of radioiodine immediately after the accident. lt is possible to assume that the chronic iodine deficiency at that time further increased the number of sufferers4). Additionally, the occurrence frequency of thyroid cancer in infants and the dose of internal exposure to the thyroid gland had positive correlation4). lt was very fortunate that 99% of patients had good prognosis and survived after the operations. Radioiodine therapy after the total extirpation of the thyroid gland against lung metastasis showed significant effects and metastasis treatment had a high cure rate6). However, the problems of long prognosis, recurrence, and other complications still remain and further tracing and appropriate treatment are essential.On the other hand, no increase in leukemia has been seen among citizens including infants and adults though that was primarily concerned from the experiences of atomic-bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is probably because people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered mainly from external exposure while it was internal exposure to radioiodine immediately after the accident in Chernobyl. Despite the fact that enormous efforts were expended to analyze genetic abnormality of radiation-induced thyroid cancer, the analyses have not been able to distinguish between induction by radiation and spontaneity at the molecular level7).Apart from thyroid cancer, increase in solid cancers, benign diseases, genetic effects, or effects on unborn babies among residents living around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has not been scientifically demonstrated. However, social unrest and mental damage caused by the accident is thought to be more serious than the physical damage due to direct radiation exposure. Especially those who were forced to evacuate immediately after the accident and those who were forced to move have issues related to social and economic unstableness. In addition, problems of current health fears and strong anxiety over health impacts on future generations have come up. A paucity of scientific research is available on psychological effects and many psychological effects are not determined as health disorder. The WHO report mentioned above states that what the residents are suffering from is at a potential subclinical level which is not clinically identified as abnormal. The report also requires future resolution.When we look at the current situation in Fukushima, we should see the radiophobia brought by mass media. Rumors have widely spread among the residents due to lack of accurate information. The same fear has been found in other areas including Tokyo metropolitan area even though they are far from Fukushima. This panic like phenomena can be attributed to the internet societies which magnified irresponsible groundless information or rumors. To provide accurate information and thorough mental care is critically required in order not to let people in Fukushima, especially mothers and their children, have the similar fear of potential health problems that people had in Chernobyl. Farmers and workers engaged in the primary industries are under another threat. Primary industries have been thriving in Fukushima, however, their products are vulnerable to harmful rumors or misinformation. The people are anticipating financial damages and some have even committed suicide because of the fear of the future. Immediate action must be taken to prevent such tragedy. A correct information source and the proper passing of information by the media are required in health risk communication with regards to radiation. However, preceding those, the health risk communication requires individual awareness of risk to understand and judge risk. To develop such risk awareness, mutual trust must be built between the information source, media, and recipients of information.