Two medical staffers from Fukushima Medical University (FMU) in Japan -- Arifumi Hasegawa, Professor and Chair of Fukushima Medical University’s (FMU) Department of Radiation Disaster Medicine and Kenneth E. Nollet, Professor and Director of International Cooperation at FMU’s Radiation Medical Science Center -- gave talks at the Goethe-Institut in Washington, DC on July 16, on their experience dealing with the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe that began on March 11, 2011. Beyond Nuclear attended. The focus of the event was to see if and how the lessons of Fukushima would be applicable to nuclear reactor communities in the U.S.
It was clear that initially, FMU lacked sufficient knowledge and infrastructure to deal with the radiological catastrophe facing them-- a situation which is most likely true for many medical professionals, and others, around nuclear facilities in the United States. It also became evident as discussion at this event progressed, these experts' lack of knowledge left them open to the nuclear establishment's biased interpretation of events, which in the past has discounted radiation's impact--instead blaming health impacts on consumption of alcohol, smoking, and mental illness.
While it is good that the FMU staff were present at Goethe where their misconceptions could be challenged or corrected, it is unfortunate that they were also presenting at other institutions, including the Red Cross, probably as the sole expertise available. Not only was one physician under the impression that tritium was also called "heavy water" (in fact, deuterium is heavy water, NOT tritium, and deuterium is not radioactive) but still more importantly, the other parroted the "official" line that any dose below 10 rem is safe. (see below)
FMU has been the subject of controversy since the catastrophe began. A different FMU medical doctor has made statements in the past claiming any dose below 100 mSv (10 Rem) is safe, and smiling will help prevent radiation harm. Additionally, FMU is responsible for a health study that remains the center of controversy and FMU has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with international nuclear power promotion agency IAEA regarding human health impacts of radiation exposure.
Beyond Nuclear's Cindy Folkers asked why proper biological monitoring, such as urine testing and blood draws to look for chromosome damage, was not instituted immediately after the accident in order to assess public exposure, rather than estimating doses to the public. She further suggested that communities around reactors should have their blood drawn and "banked" for future examination prior to any accident so that, should a nuclear accident occur, there would be empirical evidence of exposure (malformations of chromosomes in the blood due to radiation), rather than just reliance on error-ridden estimates and dose calculations.
Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps asked why, if radiation doses to Fukushima residents have been so low, as the FMU presenters claimed, were the "allowable" or "permissible" (not to be confused with "safe") levels of radioactivity exposure officially raised by the Japanese government to 20 mSv (2 Rem) per year shortly after 3/11/11, where they remain to this day? This is equal to the permissible dose to nuclear power plant workers in Germany, only it's applied to everyone living in contaminated areas of Japan, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, the infirm, and those with already weakened immune systems. One physician responded that 10 rem is safe. When pressed with statistical evidence that 10 rem is NOT safe, the physician conceded that allowing such dose rates was a political decision, not a scientific one. At the same time, this physician acknowledged certain stages of fetal development are uniquely vulnerable to radiation's hazards. In fact, childhood leukemia starts to increase at about 2 mSv and increases in a statistically significant way, at just 4 mSv of cumulative dose (not a yearly dose, but a total dose). That is 4 years' worth of the average background dose in most places (80-100 mrem) without any additional radiation exposure.