On August 26th, Japan’s Kyodo News reported on the Nuclear Regulation Authority revising its guidelines on medical preparedness during a nuclear accident. Based on this reporter’s professional experience in Health Physics, the report appears terribly confused. If it is objectively reporting what is being posted by the NRA (it’s in Japanese only), then the NRA is also confused. For our purposes, let’s assume that the NRA’s new guidelines are correct, but being incorrectly reported. Regardless, we have yet another example of the pervasive infection of the Hiroshima Syndrome in the Japanese Press.
To begin, it should be noted that I’m not alone in taking professional umbrage with this misreporting. Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information colleague Jaffrey Mahn, retired from Sandia National Laboratories, cites three statements in the Kyodo report; “Japan’s nuclear regulator has designated 5 medical institutions as treatment centers for people exposed to heavy doses of radiation in the event of an accident at a nuclear plant.” And “…5 institutions were chosen to take charge of serious radiation exposure cases…” followed by, “Many evacuees potentially exposed to radiation in the Fukushima Daiichi disaster did not receive adequate medical attention through the system.” Mahn correctly states that no Fukushima evacuees received any significant radiation exposure from the accident. But, it seems the Press wants people to believe quite the opposite occurred. He adds his opinion – with the Press “uninformed fear always overwhelms truth”.
Now for my view…I was a nuclear operations engineer, specializing in Health Physics, for more than two decades. For eight of those years, I worked with local communities that fell within the Emergency Planning Zone around the Perry Plant, in Northeast Ohio, including hospitals within a 10 mile (~15 kilometer) radius. I gained a familiarity with the modifications made to hospital emergency facilities to safely handle patients contaminated by a nuclear accident.
The operative term here is “contaminated”. If a patient comes to a hospital with a physical trauma in need of medical attention, the trauma will have been caused by something other than radiation exposure. The serious concern is whether or not the individual is contaminated, especially the physical injury. Thorough cleansing – e.g. given a shower – and washing of clothes removes the contamination, keeping it from being spread or ingested. If the trauma is life-threatening, medical staff can wear full-body suits, masks, and gloves to save the life to keep from getting contaminated themselves. If a contaminated individual is in critical condition due to injury, the saving of the life takes precedence over donning of protective gear.
Here in the United States, local hospitals have modified emergency facilities so medical staff can attend to contaminated patients. This is what I firmly believe the NRA guidelines in Japan are focusing on; injuries that are contaminated (worst case) and/or decontaminating individuals who come in for other emergency reasons…but, not “serious radiation exposures” to the public.
Injuries to the public caused by radiation exposure are not possible due to contamination from power plant accidents. Actual radiation injuries, requiring immediate medical attention, are almost entirely internal; neurological dysfunctions and/or critical organ failures. Such medical/physical insults, requiring immediate medical treatment, can only occur through enormous exposures inflicted over a relatively short period of time. Injury-inflicting exposures to the public are literally unthinkable with respect to nuclear power plant accidents. The only realistic way for such enormous, physically injurious exposures to occur is with a nuclear weapon’s detonation. In the case of Japan, there were the detonations at Hiroshima/Nagasaki.
I firmly believe that the NRA guidelines refer to contamination, its removal from otherwise sick or injured patients, and prevention of the medical staff from becoming contaminated while treating these individuals. It makes no sense for the NRA to be creating guidelines for “emergency treatment for radiation exposure”. The Japanese Press is confusing contamination with injurious levels of exposure itself, which is terribly incorrect. The Press seems to be assuming bomb-caused injury, and that’s the Hiroshima Syndrome at work.
It is estimated that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (H/N) killed 170,000 due to the explosions themselves. Another 25,000 died within days and (in some cases) weeks after the bombings due to massive heat burns and terrible physical traumas caused by flying debris and/or falling objects. As it turns out, most of the after-detonation fatalities were similar to those experienced due to the fire-bombing of Tokyo in March, 1945, which killed at least 100,000. Nonetheless, with H/N another ~5,000 died within five years of the bombings as a result of high radiation exposures. It is widely believed across Japan that everyone who died from the H/N bombings was due to radiation exposure. (Aside – This is also a not-uncommon misconception outside Japan. – end aside) Further, it is assumed every one of the Hibakusha (H/N survivors) who died of cancer since 1950 has been due to their bomb exposures. Belief that a reactor is a bomb-waiting-to-happen, combined with the morbid misconceptions concerning H/N’s death toll and decades of secrecy relative to the truth, is certainly more than enough for us to understand the rationale behind the huge impact of the Hiroshima Syndrome on Japan.
The Hiroshima Syndrome is a mortal aversion to nuclear energy due to confusion between reactors and bombs – literally believing reactors are merely bombs that have not-yet detonated. This is an entirely fictitious assumption. Reactors use the wrong type of uranium for a detonation of any kind. (see… http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/the-uranium-explosive-myth/) However, decades of literally no public education explaining the differences, and the ever-lasting national trauma caused by the memory of Hiroshima/Nagasaki and its attendant rumors, makes Japan the singular place in the world where the Hiroshima Syndrome has its greatest impact.
Japan’s Press is not immune. In fact, four-and-a-half years of Japanese Press reports concerning F. Daiichi literally drip with Hiroshima Syndrome infection. While we can understand the error, and even feel at least a modicum of sympathy, we should not say “Oh well. It’s something we just have to live with.” It imperative that Japan’s government, as well as the entire Japanese nuclear community, educate the people of Japan… especially Japan’s Press! Yes, it will cost an enormous amount of money to overcome the false paradigms that have emerged and proliferated since 1945. However, this should be weighed against the trillions upon trillions of Japanese yen which has already been spent to assuage the damage that has been done by not educating the people…and Press…of Japan.
While this blog seems to continually lambaste Japan’s Press for their antinuclear-skewed reporting, I must make one thing clear – I do not blame the Press for the problem! The time for educating Japan’s Press and public may seem to be long-past, but it is never too late to start all over again. Japan’s government and nuclear community must take these realities to heart, get back on the horse, effect a determined effort to educate, and try to stop needlessly throwing away trillions in the future to satisfy false paradigms. The Hiroshima Syndrome is real! The Hiroshima Syndrome is costing unnecessarily huge outlays of money. Ignoring it and hoping it will eventually get better, is not the answer. Education is!