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November 23, 2011

5000 support staff at Fukushima had no radiation contamination levels

1. PLoS ONE - Individual Radiation Exposure Dose Due to Support Activities at Safe Shelters in Fukushima Prefecture

Immediately after the accidents in the nuclear power stations in Fukushima on March 11, the Japanese Government ordered the evacuation of the residents within a 20-km radius from the station on March 12, and asked various institutions to monitor the contamination levels of the residents. Hirosaki University, which is located 355 km north of Fukushima City, decided to send support staff to Fukushima. This report summarizes the results of the exposure of 13 individual teams from March 15 to June 20. The support teams surveyed more than 5,000 people during this period. Almost all subjects had external contamination levels of less than 13 kcpm on Geiger-Müller (GM) survey meter, which is categorized as “no contamination level.” The 1st team showed the highest external exposure dose, but the 4th team onward showed no significant change. Subsequently, the internal radiation exposure was measured using a whole body counter that indicated undetectable levels in all staff members. Although the measured external radiation exposure dose cannot have serious biological effects on the health of an individual, a follow-up study of the residents in Fukushima and other regions where the radioactive material has spread will be required for a long time.

2. Big Think - a recent widely reported story found that broad public health study of the population affected by Fukushima probably won’t detect any cancers, because there will be too few to show up compared with the much higher general cancer rate. In other words, the number of cancer cases from Fukushima will probably be pretty low. The article usually had the headline “Future cancers from Fukushima plant may be hidden” but should have had the headline “Nuke disaster might cause few cancers”. The truth doesn’t sound all that bad, and might not attract as many readers as something more alarming

Buried down in graph 25, the story cites Japanese officials as saying “mental health problems caused by excessive fear of radiation are prevalent and posing a bigger problem than actual risk of cancer caused by radiation.” Excessive fear of radiation?! Hmmmm. I wonder where that might have come from?

That’s the point of this little critique. Risk reporting that overplays the scary and underplays the neutral or ameliorating can actually hurt people. Fear fueled by alarmist coverage that goes beyond the evidence of the actual danger can lead to unhealthy choices by individuals, and by society (fear of nukes has contributed to an energy policy that relies more on coal burning for electricity, the particulate emissions from which kills tens of thousands of people per year). Fear certainly adds to stress, which is bad for our health in all sorts of ways.

Of course some of the fearmongers such as Christopher Busby are trying to financially harm the Japanese people by selling overpriced and unneeded products and services.





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