Scientists have published a series of papers which highlights the long-term radiological and psychological impact of nuclear disasters on humans.
In the past 60 years, five severe nuclear accidents rated as level 5 or higher have taken place: Kyshtym (Russia) in 1957, Windscale Piles (United Kingdom) in 1957, Three Mile Island (USA) in 1979, Chernobyl (Russia) in 1986, and Fukushima (Japan) in 2011.
In one of the papers, Dr Koichi Tanigawa of Fukushima Medical University and his team have discussed the psychological burden of those living in the regions affected by the accident.
Dr Tanigawa said that although the radiation dose to the public from Fukushima was relatively low and no discernible physical health effects are expected, psychological and social problems have had a devastating impact on people’s lives.
At least one-third of the world’s 437 nuclear power plants have more people living within the 30 km radius, 21 of these sites have more than one million people and six have more than three million people.
In another paper, Prof Akira Ohtsuru of Fukushima Medical University, and his colleagues said that physicians must play a key role in helping residents’ understand the health risks, adding that the evacuation of a large population of vulnerable people in nursing homes and hospitals will also need careful planning and adequate medical support.
The authors further stated that screening for mental illness in residents relocated from their homes and providing mental health care would be essential.
Meanwhile, in the paper by Professor Kenji Kamiya and his team, reported the long-term health impact of radiation exposure from the two biggest nuclear disasters in history, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine in 1986.
Evidence from the Japanese Life Span Study that followed 94000 atomic bomb survivors from 1950, 5 years after the bombings to the current day, revealed a clear increased lifetime risk of cancer in survivors. The risk was found to be proportional to dose for solid cancers, and a higher risk was found in those exposed as children or young adults. After Chernobyl, an increased risk of childhood thyroid cancer among those with internal exposures from consuming radioactivity in food was also seen in affected areas. Hereditary effects in the children of survivors have not yet been detected.
Prof Kamiya and his team concluded that the ongoing research was vital not only to understand the potential health effects of nuclear disasters, but to develop radiation protection limits and standards for occupational and medical exposures.
The researchers looked at the enduring radiological and psychological impact of nuclear disasters on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The study is published in the journal The Lancet.