June 21, 2013

The Japanese Red Cross Society (JCRS) has set a maximum radiation exposure limit of one millisievert per year for emergency response workers. (1) In doing so, they have violated the moral imperative of Red Cross Societies around the world. In essence… an emergency response action should only be taken if the benefits of the action outweigh the total (radiation and non-radiation) risks, or “do more good than harm”. The primary mission is rescuing survivable victims. (2)  To the contrary, it seems the JCRS is more concerned about avoidance of negligible radiation exposures than with saving people’s lives.

The ICRP and IAEA maintain that emergency response workers should be limited to 250 millisieverts total exposure in life-saving situations, with a 500 millisievert ceiling for the most extreme cases. It should be noted that no documented increases in cancer incidence or mortality has ever occurred below 1 Sievert (1,000 mSv) of acute (short duration) exposure. The oft-referenced exposure level for the onset of carcinogenesis is 100 mSv, but this comes from a very conservative assumption (Linear/No Threshold) which is meant to be used for setting regulatory standards, and for nothing else. The actual data shows that 500 millisievert acute exposures have not ever hurt anyone. But, it seems the JCRS chooses to succumb to Japan’s irrational and irresponsible radiation exposure standard of 1 mSv as the limit with lifesaving efforts. The only lives they will save in such situations are their own.

I’m not the only one critical of this ridiculous decision. Yasushi Asari, a professor of emergency medical care at Hirosaki University, said, “Radiation doses above 1 millisievert have no health effects. There is no need for medical workers to use that threshold.” But, Masahito Yamazawa, director-general of the JCRS nuclear disaster task force, says this insanely low limit won’t hinder their life-saving efforts in any way, “We have created the guideline out of a positive desire to help victims during a nuclear disaster.” Deplorable!! Who does he think he is kidding? Is JRCS playing on the ignorance of Japan’s public relative to the realities of radiation exposure? Is JRCS merely making a politically expedient judgment at the expense of disaster victims? The JRCS has done this sort of thing before, and it most certainly cost many people their lives.

After the great tsunami of 3/11/11 hit the Tohoku coast, more than 900 Red Cross missions were supposed to be set up. But many along the 300 kilometer-long coastlines were delayed because of fear of radiation on the part of JRCS home office in Tokyo. On March 16, 2011, JRCS spokesman Mutsuhiko Owaki said, “we cannot send rescue workers to places where there is a clear risk of radiation exposure”. That’s exactly what the JCRS did, and their staff in Tohoku felt strangled because they could not help those in need. (3) At the same time that JRCS withheld many sorely-needed life-saving missions from Miyagi – the most devastated of the five prefectures hit by the giant waves – the Tokyo Fire department sent about 500 of their finest to Miyagi without reservation. Japan’s SDF didn’t run and hide from the possibility of harmless radiation exposure, either. “The SDF has no plan to change its missions because of the radiation risks,” said a spokesman of the Japanese Defense Ministry on March 16, 2011. The JCRS rationale for their skittishness was because the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, more than 100 kilometers away, was “unpredictable”.

It makes me wonder how many Japanese tsunami victims needlessly died because the JCRS was afraid of the radiation bogey-man? How can those who made the decisions relative to the tsunami victims live with themselves? Now, the JCRS has gone off the deep end made and sanctioned their immoral actions in March, 2011. They will officially do whatever needs be done to save lives, unless there is the possibility of a harmless exposure to radiation. In that case the JRCS says, “Let the victims die!”

Since when does the infinitesimally microscopic cancer risk of one mSv exposure have a higher value than the saving of a human life? It doesn’t, and it never will.


1. Oiwa, Yuri; “Red Cross radiation limit for relief workers too low”; Asahi Shimbun, June 13, 2013

2. http://www.epa.gov/radiation/docs/er/planning-guidance-for-response-to-nuclear-detonation-2-edition-final.pdf

3. Obe, Mitsuru; “Relief Groups Consider Withdrawing Operations Amid Threat of Exposure”; The Wall Street Journal; March 16, 2013 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704662604576202341130872836.html