Advisory committee recommends RERF provide support for Fukushima health care

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

The Scientific Advisory Committee of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) has recommended that the foundation provide organized support for surveys of the health of residents of Fukushima Prefecture who were exposed to radiation as a result of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant. Jointly administered by the governments of Japan and the United States, RERF conducts surveys on the health of atomic bomb survivors. Its offices are located in Hiroshima’s Minami Ward. The advisory committee is jointly chaired by Shunichi Yamashita, vice president of Fukushima Medical University. At a press conference following the March 6 meeting of the advisory committee, Toshiteru Okubo, RERF’s chairman, said, “It will be difficult to do this anytime soon.”

RERF has sent researchers to Fukushima and offered advice on how to conduct health surveys. But the advisory committee said, “The possibility of providing organized support for Fukushima needs to be explored.”

Mr. Okubo cited RERF’s budgeting mechanism as the reason for the difficulty in implementing the committee’s recommendation. Representatives of the governments of Japan and the U.S. meet every five years to discuss the budget. The current budget will be in effect through fiscal year 2014. “We would like to contribute,” Mr. Okubo said, “but it won’t be permitted unless a new budget is put together.”

At the press conference Mr. Okubo also outlined the organizational structure of the Biological Sample Center that will be set up in fiscal year 2013 to consolidate the management of blood, urine and other samples from atomic bomb survivors. Samples that have been held by each research department will be stored in one place, and a staff of 14, including two full-time employees, will create a database consisting of information such as the age and gender of each person from whom the samples were taken and the amount of radiation they were exposed to.

The members of the Scientific Advisory Committee, an external group consisting of 12 university professors and doctors from Japan and the U.S., met at RERF’s facility in Hiroshima’s Minami Ward from March 4 through 6 to discuss the foundation’s research programs.

(Originally published on March 7, 2013)