Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Damaged Bodies and Minds

A World Health Organization report warns of widespread mental trauma from the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan.

It’s been nearly two years since an earthquake and subsequent tsunami triggered the explosion and radioactive leak at the Japanese power plant Fukushima Daiichi. But, what physical and emotional effects of this disaster will linger? The World Health Organization released a new report answering that very question.   

According to the study, the probability of cancer is higher, but only slightly.

“The primary concern identified in this report is related to specific cancer risks linked to particular locations and demographic factors,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment, in a statement on the WHO website. “A breakdown of data, based on age, gender and proximity to the nuclear plant, does show a higher cancer risk for those located in the most contaminated parts. Outside these parts − even in locations inside Fukushima Prefecture − no observable increases in cancer incidence are expected.”

Those most likely to have an increased probability of cancer are the employees that were directly exposed to the radiation in the plant.

“The WHO report underlines the need for long-term health monitoring of those who are at high risk, along with the provision of necessary medical follow-up and support services,” Neira said. “This will remain an important element in the public health response to the disaster for decades.”

Psychological effects of the Fukushima disaster might be more widespread, however. The report warns that emotional damage, like depression and anxiety, should be monitored and not ignored.

“In addition to strengthening medical support and services, continued environmental monitoring, in particular of food and water supplies, backed by the enforcement of existing regulations, is required to reduce potential radiation exposure in the future,” said Dr. Angelika Tritscher, Acting Director for WHO’s Food Safety and Zoonosis Department.

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