A fact-finding contingent from America’s National Academy of Sciences is in Japan hoping to realize lessons that will improve nuclear plant safety in the United States. However, a statement made by group head Norman Neureiter makes us wonder about what might be “learned” concerning Japan’s response to low level radiation exposure, “Because after a thing like this in Japan and a damage and human losses and continuing radiation and all of these things, people will have more and more questions about nuclear energy. So, to draw the conclusion from this investigation hopefully useful lessons which can be applied to elsewhere to make sure nothing like this happens again.” Will the NAS team realize what other prestigious investigators have learned – the most severe health effect spawned by the government’s response to Fukushima Daiichi is unnecessary psychological damage?

Case-in-point – A new International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) report on the low level radiation situation in Japan. It says, “The substantial biological, epidemiological, and ethical foundations supporting the basic notion of the nominal risk coefficients used for radiological protection purposes were misunderstood by the public at large in Japan, and the media unfortunately contributed to this misunderstanding. Since the accident, hypothetical estimates of future casualties due to the accident have been made. They oscillated between some tens of cases in the peer reviewed literature to half a million in reports by the media. These alarmist and unfounded theoretical calculations have caused severe emotional distress in the Japanese population.” ICRP lays considerable blame on the Japanese news media and internet sources for trumpeting these irrational speculations, making them seem to be reasonable and factual to the people of Japan. This caused considerable misunderstanding which compelled Tokyo to try and soothe public fears by continually lowering national radiation exposure limits, when they would have performed a greater public good by educating Japan about radiological realities.

In addition, ICRP takes Tokyo to task for bewildering their people during the chaotic, over-reactive evacuation sequences following 3/11/11. “People living in the affected areas were confused with the logic behind the restrictions applied to individual doses, in what was a mixture of pre-emergency, emergency and post-emergency protection policies…There seems considerable discrepancy in understanding the dose value of 1 mSv/y. The general public and society at large tend to regard a dose above this value dangerous, and consequently this creates a lot of complications in coping with radiological events.” Needless to say, the Tokyo mandated, over-reactive F. Daiichi evacuations initiated the psychological damage, which was subsequently exacerbated by phobic fears promoted by the Japanese Press.

At this point, we should note a recent conversation between cyber-colleague Rod Adams of Atomic Insights, and noted nuclear professional Ted Rockwell, “In every ‘nuclear disaster’ radiation injured few if any people, whereas overplayed FEAR of radiation had disastrous impact, ruining the lives of thousands. A recent study showed that people who refused to evacuate Chernobyl were happier and outlived the evacuees by 20 years, while the evacuees themselves were depressed and suicidal. There is nothing else that is as central to the issue as that one fact. It should not be skewed by unreasonable premises.” Clearly, the ICRP is not alone in their realization that severe psychological distress fomented by fear of radiation exposure is the most significant health impact of nuclear power plant accidents.

Finally, ICRP stresses the importance of psychological consequences, “The radiation exposure situations created by the accident…seems to be producing serious psychological consequences in the affected population. The psychological consequences include the same type of outcomes observed in other similar situations, such as depression, grieving [for tsunami victims], post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anxiety, sleep disturbances, severe headaches, and increased smoking and alcohol use. However, in many areas some other outcomes are observable, such as intense anger, despair, long-term anxiety about [personal] health and health of children and, in particular, stigma and discrimination.” ICRP references a recent report by Japan’s Reconstruction Agency which indicates that psychological stress is the biggest ill-health factor for the people of Japan. Perhaps the most significant ICRP statement along these lines is this – “The accident has reconfirmed that psychological consequences are a major outcome of major radiation accidents. While they are health effects in their own right, they are basically ignored in radiological protection recommendations and standards.” (emphasis added)

Will the NAS come to similar conclusions? Will they recommend that post-accident psychological distress should be considered through pro-active public education, and not wait until the next accident happens? We can only hope they do.

References –

  1. US Scientists find lessons from Fukushima nuclear crisishttp://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/u-s-scientists-find-lessons-from-fukushima-nuclear-crisis
  2. Report of ICRP Task Group 84 on Initial Lessons Learned from the Nuclear Power Plant Accident in Japan…http://www.icrp.org/docs/ICRP%20TG84%20Summary%20Report.pdf
  3. Fear of radiation has ruined far more lives than exposure to radiationhttp://atomicinsights.com/2012/11/fear-of-radiation-has-ruined-far-more-lives-than-radiation-has.html#more-13148