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US Physicians Claim Radiation Risks Due to the Fukushima Nuclear Accident

The following is the English translation of the The Wall Street Journal Japan Online article posted on November 13, 2013. Permission for translation was obtained from the author, Misako Hida.

Disclaimer: Wall Street Journal Japan Online is not responsible for the translation.

Note: Although most of the links were not part of the original article, they were provided within the translation for easy accessibility to appropriate information at the discretion of the translator.


NY Report by Misako Hida
November 13, 2013

US physicians claim radiation risks due to the Fukushima nuclear accident

Intake of radioactively contaminated air, water and food brings radioactive material inside the body, causing internal radiation contamination. It is a critical responsibility of adults to protect lives and health of children, who will carry on the future, from radiation exposure.

Last month, there was a symposium held in New York City to discuss the "Fukushima Report" by United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). A former president of a non-governmental organization (NGO) "Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)" and Assistant Clinical Professor in Department of Medicine at University of Iowa, John W. Rachow, M.D., urged not to underestimate the risks of health effects on Fukushima children, by excerpting the following quote by President Kennedy.

"The number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard-and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby-who may be born long after all of us have gone-should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics towards which we can be indifferent."

This was part of the July 27th Radio and Television Address to the American People by President Kennedy, the day after the United States and the former USSR reached an agreement to sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, in the midst of Cold War when the United States and the former USSR were engaged in the arms race.

A Fukushima child being tested for radiation exposure (March 13, 2013). (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

"A 50-year-old speech by President Kennedy fits the UNSCEAR report just right," says Rachow.

The symposium, co-sponsored by PSR and Human Rights Now, the Japanese human rights organization, places an emphasis on "human rights" rather than "statistics." It was held in response to the summary report by UNSCEAR, submitted to the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in October 2013, which stated, "No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public." Its purpose was to demand that UNSCEAR re-recognize uncertainties accompanying estimation of exposure doses as well as health effects, and encourage improvements in the completion of the final report.

According to the critique about the report, co-authored by PSR and the German branch of the US NGO "International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)," UNSCEAR report failed to accurately portray the true extent of radiation exposure, ignored the ongoing radioactive emissions, and excluded non-cancer effects of radiation. 

Moreover, it also questions the reliability of TEPCO's worker dose assessment and the neutrality of the data used in the report, suggesting that monitoring should occur for non-cancer diseases and genetic radiation effects. The critique also sounds the alarm that the comparisons between nuclear fallout and background (natural) radiation, often used when minimizing the risks of radiation exposure, can be misleading.

According to Dr. Rachow, the critique was sent to UNSCEAR by e-mail, and "a polite and quick reply" was received. "I felt that our concerns and suggestions would be considered, and we felt encouraged."

In regards to the summary report, UNSCEAR released an interim report in May 2013, stating, "No immediate health risks were seen" from the Fukushima nuclear accident. This column also featured a two-part interview of Dr. Wolfgang Weiss, Chair of the UNSCEAR report and Head of the Department of Radiation Protection and Health of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS).

At first, the entire report was to be presented at UNGA this fall. However, after the interim report came out, it was revealed that the Japanese government and TEPCO did not have an accurate assessment of the status of worker exposure. In October, UNSCEAR announced the postponement of the completion of the report, citing the underestimation of internal exposure dose of workers by about 20% due to radioactive iodine 133 (half-life 20 hours) not being reflected in dose estimation of workers.

According to the United Nations press release, Carl-Magnus Larsson, the Chair of the UNSCEAR,  announced in a briefing at the Fourth Committee of UNGA, that just as in the interim report in May, human exposure to radiation was "low or generally low, with no immediate health effects."

However, regarding children, Larsson explained, because of "the difference between the ways atomic energy affected children as compared to adults," more caution was required. Consequently there had been a major thyroid screening program of 360,000 children conducted in Japan. However, it was unclear whether higher than usual rates of thyroid cancers and abnormalities detected were due to radiation exposure, as they are "indistinguishable" from cancers due to other causes.

Dr. Rachow dismisses UNSCEAR's views that it is not possible to prove increased cancer risks due to radiation exposure. "It is typical tautology to state, 'Since radiation-induced cancers are indistinguishable from cancers caused by other causes, in the case of Fukushima, increase in cancer attributable to radiation exposure is not expected'," says Rachow. (Tautology refers to repetition of synonymous words, guaranteeing the truth of the proposition in rhetoric).

The symposium also featured Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council who submitted a report to the UN this May, recommending the Japanese government to strictly regulate radiation limits based on "human rights." He stated, "Nation should not breach 'the right for attainment of health' for citizens. It has the duty to respect and protect its people."

Meanwhile, briefings at the Fourth Committee of UNGA suggested unspoken pressure on UNSCEAR by the Japanese government. According to the UN press release mentioned earlier, the Japanese delegate indicated that UNSCEAR report had a possibility of "causing misunderstanding." It's because some Japanese media's articles "incorrectly" reported that "the report had concluded that the Government of Japan had underestimated the amount of internal exposure of workers at the plant.

A former president of a non-governmental organization (NGO) "Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)" and Assistant Clinical Professor in Department of Medicine at University of Iowa, John W. Rachow, M.D. (Photo courtesy of Dr. John Rachow)

Certainly, there is the fact that UNSCEAR indicated the possibility of underestimation after receiving new sets of data from TEPCO in regards to the workers, even though it is not the final report. It is a matter of fact to reflect any discrepancy in data. The statement by the Japanese delegate could be construed as indirectly demanding a change in "conclusion" in the final report.

In fact, according to the proceedings of Nuclear Safety Commission on September 9, 2011, Technical Advisor Kenzo Fujimoto and Expert Member Nobuhiko Ban made statements insinuating to restrain UNSCEAR's own data analysis at the first meeting of the "Domestic Support and Investigation Working Group for the UNSCEAR Fukushima Nuclear Accident Report," held prior to the start of the investigation by UNSCEAR.

"I say this out of concern, but if the Working Group makes efforts in collecting detailed and outstanding data and submitting them to UNSCEAR, foreigners will use them to make various assessments.(…) I think we have to assess them ourselves in Japan to prepare the data they can deal with, or else it would be embarrassing for us to appear as if we were a dependent country by submitting the data alone and leaving the assessment up to them.(…)" (Advisor Fujimoto).

In response to this, Expert Member Ban said, "I totally agree with what was just said." He continued on to say, "(…) it's something that should be approached with “the All Japan System,” which means we need to be careful with how and when the data should be submitted." In regards to the early exposure of thyroid gland to iodine, he referred to the necessity for the Japan side to do some analysis before asking for further analysis by UNSCEAR. He shared his concern, "If we simply submit the data, they might do whatever they want with the data, leading to the possibility that they might come out with some outrageous results."

In the first place, reliability of some data is questionable. For instance, according to the dust sampling measurement results by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology dated June 7, 2011, radionuclides were detected at various places such as Fukushima University on March 18, 2011, immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, even though 9,100 to 17,000 Becquerel of short-lived iodine 132 (half-life of about 2 hours) was detected, the parent nuclide Tellurium 132 (half-life about 3 days) was "undetected." However, according to Dr. Rachow, it is customary for Tellurium 132 to be detected along with the daughter nuclide iodine 132.

As "uncertainty" lingers not only in scientific effects of radiation exposure but also in the amount and the quality of data itself, how far can UNSCEAR approach what Dr. Rachow calls "firm commitment to the truth"? We look forward to the final report.

Addendum by the translator: 
Dust sampling measurement results mentioned above have also been translated as below. The questionable parts were contained within red squares.

Translation by @YuriHiranuma


  1. It is embarrassing to live in a country of such ignorance. Americans go out of their way to remain blind, and will run like hell rather than face an inconvenience like learning we're fouling the planet for untold millennium. How dare you breed like rabbits without even the willingness to be informed to protect your children. We are a DISGRACE. DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY!!!

    1. Totally agree!
      But unfortunatelly most people don't care or maybe they are in denial.
      Look at todays generation! Dumbed down by reality shows, I pod-I pad whatever and Facebook, Twitter etc....
      Kids with guns, kids on prescriptions or on salts? Parents not parenting!!!!!!
      Do you think it will get better soon?
      I'm glad I am getting old. I never thought I will say it!!!


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