From the HPS President – Health Physics News November 2014

This is a reprint of an article published in HP News, an official publication of the Health Physics Society ( Neither the Health Physics Society nor the author of the article have any affiliation with Atomic Insights.

Barbara Hamrick, CHP, JD, HPS Fellow

HamrickAt 2:46 p.m. Japan Standard Time (JST) on 11 March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, and 41 minutes later it was followed by a massive tsunami. Together these events took the lives of over 15,000 people. Many thousands more were injured, lost family and friends, and lost homes and businesses. As one of our colleagues, Matt Moeller, recently said to me, discussions of the events following the tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS) should always be prefaced by honoring those who lost their lives in one of the greatest natural disasters in recorded history. So, before I begin, I would like to ask you, the readers, to take a moment and reflect upon all those who lost their lives and loved ones that day.

Over the last couple of years I have had the honor and privilege of serving on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Lessons Learned From Fukushima.1 A prepublication report was made available at the NAS website in July 2014 (download a free PDF version of the report by clicking on the blue tab on the right side of the web page). The report provides detailed findings and recommendations relating to nuclear plant safety, risk assessment, and emergency response, among other areas.

My focus here is on emergency response. Emergency responders in Japan were already undertaking a massive response to the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami when at 7:03 p.m. JST on 11 March 2011 the prime minister gave public notice of the occurrence of a nuclear emergency situation. The electrical power and communications infrastructures were severely damaged, and there was extensive damage to buildings, roads, and highways. Despite all this turmoil, evacuations began within a 2-km radius of Fukushima Daiichi NPS at about 8:50 p.m. JST the evening of 11 March 2011.

At that time, there was no knowledge of actual or imminent release, because there was no electrical power to allow dissemination of real-time information on the state of the plants. By 16 March 2011 approximately 140,000 people within a 30-km radius of the plant had been evacuated. In Japan at the time of the Fukushima Daiichi accident (as it is known in the United States), there were no official limits (for either dose or activity) to make decisions with respect to resettlement of the evacuated areas.

As of March 2014, three years after the accident, over 80,000 evacuees still lived in shelters or other temporary locations. Notwithstanding the estimated 100–500 PBq of I-131 released to the environment as a result of the accident, the World Health Organization anticipates that disease incidence resulting from the releases is likely to remain below detectable levels.

Conversely, as reported by Evelyn Bromet in Health Physics (February 2014), follow-up studies of populations impacted by the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl show long-term negative impacts on mental well-being, and it is likely the same effects will appear in the population impacted by the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Also, in a study by S. M. Yasumura and colleagues in Journal of Epidemiology (2012), it was reported that there may have been as many as 109 excess deaths in the elderly institutionalized population attributable to the evacuations.

The NAS committee recommended that industry and emergency response organizations in the United States should “assess the balance of protective actions” taken in response to a nuclear emergency and specifically noted that attention should be given to special populations (e.g., the elderly); to long-term social, psychological, and economic impacts; and to the development of resettlement

The issue for our profession and our society is how one makes that balance. Perhaps the hypothetical risks of low-level radiation exposure should at some point give way to the manifest detriments of death by evacuation, depression, chronic anxiety, and economic losses that go beyond simple economic solutions—e.g., losing the family business. While it is integral to our policies on risk management in this country that individuals have the right to make their own decisions related to what is an acceptable risk and what is not, if the decision is not adequately informed by the facts, then the right to make it cannot be fully exercised.

We, as health physicists and radiation safety specialists, must contribute to the conversation on risk, including, and perhaps especially, by acknowledging the competing risks in any given circumstance. When our focus becomes too narrow, we diminish the value of our information. In reality, nothing is perfectly safe, and context is everything. If emergency response organizations undertake an effort to revisit the balance of protective actions, with full stakeholder input, the starting point should not be “is it safe,” but “what is safe enough” in the full context of competing risks.

1 Barbara Hamrick serves as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Committee on “Lessons Learned From the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants.” This commentary, however, should not necessarily be construed as the committee’s representative position.

Neural network analysis “unequivocally” reveals threshold dose response in atomic bomb victims

Low dose radiation suppresses cancer. Note: Low dose in this case is defined as being below a threshold value of somewhere between 100 – 200 mSv depending on exposed organ. That bold, conventional wisdom-challenging statement is supported by an incredibly important paper titled Cancer risk at low doses of ionizing radiation: artificial neural networks inference […]

Read more »

Purposely imposed fear prevents properly using radiation benefits

On October 21, 2014, I was invited to be a speaker at the Eastern Washington American Nuclear Society Meeting. That talk was recorded and produced by volunteers at the section. Perhaps as a result of jet lag or nervousness, I neglected to provide proper credit for borrowed slides. Though the words were mine, the slides […]

Read more »

National Academy of Sciences moving towards BEIR VIII

As has been reported in numerous articles here, there has been a large body of scientific research on the health effects of low level radiation published in the period since the last time the National Academy of Sciences produced a report on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation. The BEIR VII Phase 2 report was […]

Read more »

Culture Imposed by Image Gently Carries Substantial Medical Risks

I’ve been engaged with the struggle to counter excessive fear of radiation for many years. Since I come at the battle from a perspective of the avoided benefits of nuclear energy production resulting from the imposed fear, I have been focused on that aspect of countering radiation misinformation. My associates and I have often assumed […]

Read more »

Radiophobia hits home

One of the members of SARI (Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information) shared a disturbing story with a happy ending. I obtained his permission to share the story more widely in hopes that others will benefit. The happy ending was a result of caregivers who listened and responded properly when provided with accurate information that conflicted […]

Read more »

Why radiation is safe and why all nations should embrace nuclear energy

Dr. Wade Allison — retired professor of physics and medical physics at Oxford University, author of Radiation and Reason and a founding member of the international SARI group (Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information — has recently published a video titled Why radiation is safe & all nations should embrace nuclear technology – Professor Wade Allison […]

Read more »

Atomic Show #219 – Mike Rosen misused Edward Calabrese’s Earth Day column

On Atomic Show #218 – Ed Calabrese – Researching Dose Response Dr. Calabrese shared some important stories about the data manipulations he had discovered relating to the establishment of the linear, no-threshold (LNT) dose response assessment. Those stories will shake the established order. Not surprisingly, two commenters immediately added statements apparently aimed at discrediting Dr. […]

Read more »

Atomic Show #218 – Ed Calabrese – Researching Dose Response

Dr. Ed Calabrese is a professor of toxicology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. For the past twenty years, he has focused his research on understanding the response of a variety of organisms and tissues to a variety of chemicals and radiation as doses vary from extremely low to quite high. He is […]

Read more »

SARI Comment on EPA’s ANPR for 40 CFR 190

On February 4, 2014, the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) asking for interested stakeholders to review and provide comments and information about 40 CFR 190, Environmental Standards for Uranium Fuel Cycle Facilities. The comment period, originally scheduled to last 120 days, was extended to 180 days. That […]

Read more »

Selfish motives for LNT assumption by geneticists on NAS BEAR I

Dr. Edward Calabrese has published a new paper titled The Genetics Panel of the NAS BEAR I Committee (1956): epistolary evidence suggests self‐interest may have prompted an exaggeration of radiation risks that led to the adoption of the LNT cancer risk assessment model. Abstract: This paper extends a series of historical papers which demonstrated that […]

Read more »

Opportunity to use science to establish radiation standards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit comments from the general public and affected stakeholders about 40 CFR 190, Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations. The comment period closes on August 3, 2014. The ANPR page includes links to summary webinars provided to the […]

Read more »