Nuclear radiation exposure concerns mount for mothers Japan
“It is very easy to protect yourself against radiation. In the sense of the population at large the Japanese Government did exactly the right thing,” considers Professor Thomas. “They learned all the lessons from Chernobyl and they knew exactly what it was supposed to do.”
“You move away from the source; you limit the amount you breath in by shutting the windows and the doors, which is what they advice to do so you don’t bring the air in; don’t hang the washing outside and bring the washing in because that would bring contamination into the house,” explains Thomas.
Cesium 137 which is being released by the plant has a half-life of 30 years and can enter through contaminated air, food or water causing nausea, vomiting, bleeding, diarrhea, coma and even prove fatal in some extreme cases. Iodine-131, another radioactive chemical being released, is known to cause thyroid cancer.
“The goal is to limit the dose to the fetus to less than 5 millisieverts (mSv) during gestation from ingested food, water and external exposure. The Japanese government has moved the population out of heavily contaminated areas to limit the external exposure of individuals,” says Kathryn Higley, Head of The Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health and Physics at Oregon State University.
Swift evacuation for areas surrounding a nuclear core melt-down is essential for safety along with restrictions for others to stay inside. As dangers to the plant began to rise over 80,000 people were evacuated from the area surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi power plant following March 11.
“The standards set in the US and Japan for consumption of food that contains measurable amounts of radioactive material were set to limit the dose to women and infants to acceptable levels,” says Higley. “…officials [in Japan] are measuring the radionuclide concentration and determining what foodstuffs are safe for consumption by all members of the population.”
“We prefer not to think about it”
Professor Thomas states it clearly: “I wouldn’t worry if I was pregnant in Japan.” However, feelings might change when it is you who is expecting a baby.
Hiroko [not her real name] and her husband live in Kyoto, about 700 km (approx 435 miles) away from Fukushima. Hiroko who was pregnant since August 2010 was due to have her baby in May.
The couple did not seem especially worried about the dangers but, at the same time, they acknowledged that they prefer not to watch too much television and not to think too much about radiation.
“Obviously it is worrying but, in this sense, what we think is that the further away we are from the problem, the better.” While Hiroko was pregnant they were not given any special instructions regarding radiation exposures.
“If we have to choose, we prefer to believe the positive version,” they said.
“Parents will always worry, thanks Goodness,” says Professor Allison from Oxford. “It’s important that children are looked after, just as children should be kept away from fire and they should have the right number of on… but radiation is not a special problem now.”
Lately, the severity rating of the Fukushima nuclear crisis have been raised to level 7, the highest possible. With this rating, the Japanese plant is more often being compared with nuclear the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, which was also a level 7.
The main fear of radiation is that many of its consequences are seen in to be damaging in the long-term. In this sense, it is difficult to forget the risks and maybe, as Hiroko does, the best thing to do is “not to think about it.”
Fukushima isn’t finished yet. The question is: Will there ever be a real end to this current disaster?
An updated report from Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! interviews two experts about the Japanese nuclear crisis including Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action and Robert Alvarez, former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Energy about the latest on elevated levels of radiation in affected areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Mioko Smith also outlines additional dangers to pregnant women and young children from the effects of unsafe levels of radiation, citing a need for additional evaluations. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency recently admitted for the first time that full nuclear meltdowns did occur at three of the plant’s reactors, as it more than doubled its estimate for the amount of radiation that leaked from the plant in the first week of the disaster in March. For the transcript, podcast and more Democracy Now! reports about the Japan disaster, visit http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/10/as_japan_nuclear_crisis_worsens_citizen This 15 minute June 10, 2011 video is a production of Democracy Now!
Nuclear activist, author and expert Dr. Helen Caldicott speaks frankly about the dangers of radiation and the Fukishima disaster at a Centre for Globalization Research press conference in Montreal, Canada on March 25, 2011. Caldicott co-founded and was President of the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in the United States. Caldicott also supported the founding of IPPNW – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and founded the Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND). Receiving many awards for her work, including 19 honourary doctorates and the Gandhi Prize she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Nobel Peace Laureate Linus Pauling. Caldicott is also a recent laureate of the Nuclear-Free Future Award 2011.
For more information on this topic:
- “Nuclear Radiation and Health Effects“, World Nuclear Association, March 2011;
- “Foreign disaster survivors speak in mother tongues,” NHK Tokyo – Radio Japan Focus (podcast of a NHK radio show broadcast), June 29, 2011
- “Radiation and Pregnancy: A Fact Sheet for the Public,” CDC – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2011;
- “Radiation and life,” World Nuclear Association, February 2011
- “Countermeasures for the Great East Japan earthquake,” Prime Minister of Japan and Cabinet.
Additional sources for this article include JAIN – Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, CDC – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NHK Tokyo TV & Radio, World Nuclear Association, WHO – World Health Organization, Centre for Food Safety and TEPCO – Tokyo Electric Power Company.
A native of Barcelona, Spain Eva Fernández Ortiz has an M.A. in journalism from Cardiff University, U.K. with a specialty in women and gender, current affairs and international development. As a WNN reporter she is also a broadcast and video producer. In 2010 Fernández finished an in-depth study on the women of Cameroon on female self-mutilation in “‘Why breast ironing’? – Women’s Rights and Gender Inequalities”.
WNN correspondent in India, Shubhi Tandon, completed her degree from Cardiff University, U.K., with a dissertation examining the pervasive attitudes towards women in India. Gender discrimination and the crimes committed against women have been a focus of Tandon’s work since her undergraduate days in English Literature from Delhi. Tandon believes strongly, by reporting on the struggles that women face everyday she can help usher a shift in global attitudes and awareness about women.
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