FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

274IntroductionA year has passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. We are grateful to people across Japan for their kind support toward the prefecture’s medical activities and disaster recovery efforts, and to those who successfully managed evacuation shelters, made donations (both monetary and material), and purchased Fukushima-made products. Regardless of whether this is the proper forum for expressing such feelings, I would like to note here our profound gratitude.Current SituationWith one year having passed since the earthquake, numerous memorial services have been held throughout the country. In addition, children from Fukushima are being turned down for admittance to preschools, resulting in the filing of human rights complaints. Unfortunately, informed thinking about radiation risks has still not permeated Japan. Words and phrases such as radiation, reactor meltdown, contamination, and exposure provoke fear and other complex emotions in people. Moreover, various news reports remind people not only of the atomic bomb disaster but also the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. So, this is not a simple case of radiation or nuclear weapons. People are misinformed about the inherent dangers of radiation and Japanese people in general have insufficient capacity to debate and discuss risks related to daily lives. The acute disorders and increased cancer rates that survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings experienced were incontrovertible evidence of the effects of exposure to massive radiation. With regard to the recent Fukushima accident, the effects of low radiation dose rates on health are uncertain. Carcinogenic risks, as indicated by the results of existing epidemiological studies, have long been debated. Nevertheless, preventive measures utilize the linear no-threshold cancer risk model, which strictly monitors for unnecessary radiation exposure.The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, caused by a compound natural catastrophe, is an event that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government must take onus for. The accident and the associated damage to the nuclear reactors is the worst-ever industrial crisis. However, unlike health crises such as AIDS, SARS, or influenza, radiation is neither contagious nor does it spread in a way similar to an epidemic. Nevertheless, after the nuclear accident, people outside Fukushima rushed to stock up resources such as bottled water and batteries, and some even fled to the Kanto region. Moreover, there was a deluge of information on various physical measurements and radiation prevention standards as well as on the biological effects and health risks of radiation. The reports manipulated public opinion that was caught between the conflicting extremes of safety and imminent danger at the hands of environmental contamination. Immediately after the disaster, no one was privy to accurate information. The media picked up information on radiation hazards from various sources, and then spread that information to the public electronically and in print. This information was unreliable, had little scientific basis, and included content that fanned the flames of trepidation. The confusion weakened the public trust in TEPCO and the government, exacerbating the underlying crisis. As time progressed, rather than mending this “information crisis,” insult was added to injury. Fukushima became the target of unwarranted criticism and was exposed to prejudice and bias. Thus, residents suffered added strain along with their on-going struggles to live with radiation contamination. This truly tangled web of misinformation and distrust led to an accumulation of dispirited anger and anxiety toward the effects of the nuclear accident.Various data (Figure 1) show no great disparity between internal radiation exposure from the Fukushima Special Report from Fukushima on the Great East Japan Earthquake: Hope in the Midst of Adversity, Part 3Existing and Future Initiatives after the Great East Japan EarthquakeSeiichi TakenoshitaVice President, Fukushima Medical University, Professor and Chair, Department of Organ Regulatory SurgeryIzumi NakamuraLecturer, Department of Organ Regulatory SurgeryGastroenterological Surgery, Vol. 35, Issue No. 6, May 2012 (published by Herusu Shuppan Co., Inc.)