FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

chap.IFukushima Medical University Girds for BattleFUKUSHIMA: Lives on the Line37Early-Stage Support Actions for Emergency Radiation Exposure Care in the Areas Affected by Atomic BombingOn March 15, in the early stages of conflicting reports about the nuclear accident, Radiation Emergency Medical Assistance Teams (REMATs) from Hiroshima University and Nagasaki University arrived at Fukushima Medical University (FMU) by Self-Defense Force helicopters. That day, those within a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear power plant were ordered to evacuate as the air radiation dose rate in Fukushima City suddenly increased. Even after orders were issued to stay indoors for those in the 20–30 kilometer area, there was still a dearth of information about the nuclear power plant crisis. Moreover, with limited outside aid, the evacuation zone was at the mercy of contradictory information on disaster management; for example, the conflicting advice about taking iodine tablets. There was no water, and amid the vortex of anxiety and chaos, FMU was gradually left to hold its own. Around this time, people exposed to radiation from the nuclear power plant were transported to FMU. With the help of REMAT, the Self-Defense Force, and Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), we arranged for radiation measurement vehicles and decontamination tents in the cold, and began the process of creating a manual for treating multiple patients exposed to radiation. But, even at this time, there was absolutely no communication about the decisions medical facilities and public agencies were making during the nuclear crisis. I was contacted by a Nagasaki University professor who had come in support, stating if the government is in a mess and cannot get anything done, we should do what we can as a university with experience in radiation exposure medicine. On the night of March 17, I was directly requested over the cell phone by President Shin-ichi Kikuchi to provide help. On the 18th, I landed at Fukushima Airport, which was in chaos not because people wanted to enter the city, rather they were trying to rush out. The roads and towns were deserted, but a long line of cars stretched out from the only operational gasoline station. Everybody in the director’s office at the Disaster Response Headquarters looked fatigued due to the strenuous week. Grasping accurate information on the overall state of damage was difficult. In this situation, I talked with the executives about the necessity of fulfilling our greatest responsibility of providing medical care to the community and our domestic and foreign experiences with nuclear accidents. At night, I interacted with hospital employees and an expert from Nagasaki University about treatment for radiation contamination. Because all of Japan’s support was indispensable, we contacted University President Shigeru Katamine, who with incredible speed facilitated an academic exchange agreement. The agreement was signed on April 2 between FMU, Nagasaki University, and Hiroshima University. The same day, representatives from national research committees gathered at FMU to deliberate the effects of radiation and promised their full support. At first, the myth of nuclear safety delayed government responses, mostly because of lack of information and understanding. However afterwards, a plethora of information and ideologies caused confusion among the people. We must now reconstruct a relationship of trust between medical professionals and society. Colleagues who provided support in the early-stage treatment of radiation exposure at FMU, helped create the Radiation Disaster Medicine Center and continue to feverishly work on health consultations. � (Shun-ichi Yamashita, Vice President, Fukushima Medical University)