Five Years On - Living with the Ongoing and Emerging Consequences for Health of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster


Five Years On - Living with the Ongoing and Emerging Consequences for Health of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

The unprecedented Fukushima nuclear disaster - fuelled by uranium from Australia - vented substantial quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The damaged reactors and spent fuel pools continue to leak radioactivity into the atmosphere, ground and ocean and are vulnerable to further large-scale leaks.

Over 120,000 people remain displaced by the disaster. Those affected by the disaster suffer multiple impacts – including bereavement, displacement, loss of ancestral homes and livelihoods, family disruptions, adverse mental health stresses and disorders including risks of suicide, increased rates of substance abuse, adverse developmental consequences and increased obesity among children, and fear and social stigma related to radiation.

In its policies for evacuation, limited support and compensation for those affected, and encouraging early return of evacuees, the Japanese government continues to accept 20 milliSievert of additional radiation exposure – including for children and pregnant women – higher population exposures than accepted by any other government. While the Japanese government continues to spread misinformation underplaying the risks to health of radiation exposure, there is clear early evidence of an epidemic of thyroid cancer among children in Fukushima, as predicted by the World Health Organization. Other long-term radiation health effects are inevitable. The first case of radiation-related cancer in a clean-up worker was formally recognised in 2015. As in Chernobyl, dose-related impacts on other organisms are evident, with declines in birds, butterfly and cicada populations; developmental abnormalities in birds; and genetic damage in every species studied.

This presentation will review updated evidence on the current and expected health impacts of the disaster 5 years on, and identify public health and human rights priorities for dealing with its aftermath and preventing their repetition.

A photo exhibition of Fukushima will also be presented by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff, a professional photographer.

Tilman Ruff is Associate Professor in the School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne; and medical advisor, International Program, Australian Red Cross.

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff is a photographic artist based in Melbourne, Australia.

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