Alarmist predictions that the long-term health effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan will be worse than those following Chernobyl in 1986 are likely to aggravate harmful psychological effects of the incident. That was the warning heard at an international conference on radiation research in Warsaw, Poland, this week.
One report, in UK newspaper The Independent, quoted a scientist who predicted more than a million would die, and that the prolonged release of radioactivity from Fukushima would make health effects worse than those from the sudden release experienced at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine.
“We’ve got to stop these sorts of reports coming out, because they are really upsetting the Japanese population,” says Gerry Thomas at Imperial College London, who is attending the meeting. “The media has a hell of a lot of responsibility here, because the worst post-Chernobyl effects were thepsychological consequences and this shouldn’t happen again.”
Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency report that the release of radioactivity from Fukushima is about 10 per cent that of Chernobyl. “There’s very little leakage now,” says Thomas. “The Japanese did the right thing at the right time, providing stable iodine to ensure that doses of radioactive iodine to the thyroids of children were minimal,” she says.
Thomas said that Japanese researchers attending the meeting are upset too. “They’re saying: ‘Please tell the truth, because no one believes us’.”