Expertise of Hiroshima to be used in long-term study of health effects on Fukushima residents

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

On April 26, it was learned that the Radiation Effects Research Institute Council, the nationwide network of research institutes studying the effects of radiation, which includes Hiroshima University, has made the decision to conduct follow-up surveys, over the long term, on the health of residents near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The number of people affected by the nuclear disaster may total in the hundreds of thousands and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), located in Minami Ward, Hiroshima, which has long been involved in studying the effects of radiation on the health of A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will provide its expertise to the council.

The council seeks to promote cooperation among radiation research institutes, and is comprised of six organizations, including RERF, Hiroshima University, Nagasaki University, Kyoto University, the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba City, and the Institute for Environmental Sciences in Rokkashomura, Aomori Prefecture.

As the follow-up surveys will be carried out by the council on a large scale, and in a unified manner, rather than various surveys conducted by individual research institutes or municipalities, the goal is to strengthen the precision of the research. The research will continue for several decades since such diseases as radiation-induced cancers arise later in time. The council will also seek the cooperation of the central government to track sufferers who may move to other parts of the country.

The council will hold meetings in the near future to discuss such issues as the scope of the population to be targeted for the surveys and the dates of implementation. RERF will determine the survey items needed for Fukushima based on the survey forms that it has been using in its follow-up surveys of A-bomb survivors. It will also propose specific measures, such as employing statistical analysis of the data.

RERF has pursued research on the long-term effects of radiation on the human body in Hiroshima and Nagasaki since the 1950s, when the organization was called the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC). It has continued an ongoing study involving the longevity of survivors by investigating the cause of death and the incidence of cancer among some 120,000 people, as well as a study on adult health in which the correlation between levels of radiation exposure and the incidence of illness, in 23,000 people, is explored. RERF's findings have become the basis for the world's standards with respect to radiation protection.

Takanobu Teramoto, permanent director of RERF, said, “It is vital that specialized organizations follow the health of the local residents over the long term, because the accident at Fukushima is very serious, a Level 7 disaster, which puts it on par with the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. To support those affected by radiation, we intend to make use of the accumulated research that has been conducted in the A-bombed cities.”

Hiroshima governor proposes that central government conduct long-term health studies

by Noritaka Araki, Staff Writer

Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki revealed at the national gathering of governors held on April 26 that he will propose that the central government conduct follow-up studies of the residents who live in the victinity of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as well as the workers who have been laboring at the crippled plant since the accident. He also indicated that Hiroshima Prefecture, as an A-bombed location that has accumulated expertise with regard to radiation, including the medical care of A-bomb survivors, is ready to assist the central government.

During discussion over the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, Mr. Yuzaki said, “Carrying out follow-up health studies that are scientifically precise can help ease health concerns. It will be necessary to continue these studies for several decades.” The governor stressed the importance of establishing an independent system involving researchers both inside and outside Japan, saying, “As Hiroshima has accumulated the experience and expertise, we are set to cooperate and contribute fully to these efforts. I am planning to make this proposal to the central government.”

Following the meeting, the governor cited the achievements of the Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine at Hiroshima University and others, saying, “We can serve as a vehicle for these health studies.” He added that he would urge the prime minister to move forward with the plan.

(Originally published on April 27, 2011)