Entries in Nuclear Power Plant (6)


Shunned Japanese Fukushima Plant Workers Face Emotional Toll

STR/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The March 2011 earthquake that triggered plant explosions and a meltdown in a Japanese nuclear power plant caused a chain reaction in the psyche of the workers at the plant, making them more vulnerable to emotional stress from perceived discrimination shortly after the disaster, according to a new study.

Researchers behind the study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, administered a questionnaire to two sets of power plant workers in May and June of 2011. One group was from the Daiichi plant, where the major meltdown occurred, while the other was from the Daini nuclear power plant, which exhibited some damage but remained mostly intact.

Since the power plants had been criticized for their response efforts in the wake of the disaster, the researchers included questions designed to assess whether subjects had been the targets of discrimination or slurs from others.

The study found that while there was no difference between the number of acts of discrimination experienced by the two groups, the barbs seemed to be especially hurtful to workers who had staffed the doomed Daiichi plant.  Ten percent more workers from this plant reported that they experienced psychological as well as post-traumatic stress response, compared with stress then reported by the Daini workers.

Reported psychological stress symptoms included feelings of nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness and worthlessness, as well as depression.

“This is the first study to our knowledge to explore discrimination as a factor in post-disaster mental health,” lead study author Dr. Jun Shigemura of the department of psychiatry at National Defense Medical College in Saitama, Japan, wrote in the study.

Psychiatrists agree that the perception of discrimination after the meltdown clearly played an important role in the development of post-traumatic stress response in the workers.

“This study leads us to the conclusion that discrimination of survivors of life-threatening situations such as the meltdowns in Japan is very important in PTSD,” says Dr. Gene Beresin, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital.

Other doctors acknowledge that the workers were affected not only by the disaster, but by their collective experiences that followed.

“It would not be surprising that both experience at the disaster, as well as discrimination, will have a psychological impact on the disaster workers,” says Dr. Bennett L. Leventhal, deputy director of the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, N.Y.  “However, it is also possible that a number of other factors will play equally, if not more, critical roles in affecting the response to the disaster experience.”

Indeed, discrimination is just one kind of continuing stress being experienced by the workers.

“On top of being exposed to significant trauma by experiencing a huge earthquake, witnessing an explosion, and losing colleagues and family, the residents in Fukushima are currently living under the fear of the unknown effects of radiation in the air and grounds that their children play in,” says Dr. Mai Uchida, a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Radiation Reaction: Should You Evacuate or Take Shelter?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The United States expanded its evacuation warnings for the area surrounding the nuclear reactors in Japan, now recommending that Americans in Japan stay at least 50 miles away.

The recommendation, made Wednesday, differs from that of the Japanese government, which is warning its citizens to stay 12 to 18 miles away or to stay indoors if evacuation is not possible.

But some radiation experts say that depending on the type of radioactive event, staying indoors could be more effective at lowering your risk of radiation than widespread evacuation.

Radiation is a carcinogen, and high doses or long term exposure can increase the risk of cancer.

Both taking shelter in place and evacuating pose the same risk for radiation exposure, said Jonathon Links, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

"Depending on the nature of the release, you have to weigh the options," said Links.

If there is an explosion or meltdown, causing a one-time release of high radiation levels rather than an ongoing release over a long period of time, shelter in place may be better than evacuation, said Links.

"If you're indoors during that one-time event, the plume will pass over while you're inside breathing uncontaminated air," said Links.  "If you tried to evacuate you'd be outdoors, and depending on how mobile you would be and what direction you're evacuating, you might get significant exposure."

Some should also choose to create a shelter in place if they do not have enough time to evacuate ahead of a radiation release, according to Robert Whitcomb, lead physical scientist for the radiation studies branch in the division of environmental hazards and health effects at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the most important ways to protect oneself indoors is to make sure the contaminated air outdoors does not seep in.  That means shutting turning off any ventilation systems that circulate air, unless you are in a modern building with a high-powered filtration system.

High amounts of radiation can penetrate thinner walls exposed to the outside, so experts also advise moving to the middle of a house or office space.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Doctors Say Japan Radiation Danger Outside Plant Not Large, for Now

Sankei via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the world watches Japanese officials struggle to gain control of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the short- and long-term health of people living in the area has become an overriding priority and topic of conversation worldwide.

ABC News contacted a dozen experts on radiation and, while most said that it is unlikely that the radioactive material will have severe health repercussions on those in Fukushima for now, doctors also agreed that it is too early to tell what will happen as the situation continues.

The Japanese government has evacuated nearly 200,000 residents living in the 20-km exclusion zone and urged others within 30 kilometers of the plant to stay indoors and keep their homes airtight.

Jacky Williams, director and core leader of the Center for Biophysical Assessment and Risk Management Following Irradiation at the University of Rochester Medical Center, called the 20-kilometer evacuation radius an "extremely conservative safety zone to protect against fallout."

On Monday, the World Health Organization's spokesman, Gregory Hartl, tried to ease people's worry.

"From what we know at the moment on the radiation levels, the public health risk is minimal for Japan," Hartl said. "That means that if someone is affected, there is no great risk."

But many people remained concerned after Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the damaged nuclear reactors may spew further radiation.

"The leaked radiation level is now rather high and there is high chance for further leakage of radiation from now on," Kan told residents on Tuesday.

"These are figures that potentially affect health," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told residents.  "There is no mistake about that."

Experts agree that simple measures like creating a sealed containment in one's home and washing one's body and clothing has a direct impact on long-term and short-term effects of potential radiation exposure.  Experts also agree that it is too early to tell the short-term and long-term damage.

"Until the type and quantity of the radioactive materials released into the atmosphere can be determined, it is impossible to estimate," said Jeff Clanton, director of radiopharmacy services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Japanese government has dispensed more than 200,000 units of potassium iodide, a drug commonly used to treat low-level radiation exposure, which would block radioactive iodine to prevent thyroid cancers. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fallout Fears: Potential Health Impact of the Japan Nuclear Crisis

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As workers hurry to cool the exposed fuel rods at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan's quake-battered Fukushima prefecture, health officials are screening evacuees from the 12-mile danger zone surrounding the plant for radiation.

Nineteen people have shown signs of radiation exposure following the two hydrogen blasts at the plant's No.1 and No. 3 reactor buildings.  And 141 more are feared to have been exposed while waiting for evacuation, including a group of 60 people removed by helicopter from a high school, according to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Although the health impact of radiation at low doses is controversial, the National Research Council maintains that no level of above what occurs naturally is safe.  Prior to the latest emergency at the Daiichi plant, radiation levels at the plant reached 3,130 microsieverts per hour -- roughly half the average annual dose in the U.S.

But even if a meltdown is avoided, the possibility of low-level radiation circulating in the air and contaminating the soil following the two steam-releasing explosions is very real, according to Dr. Janette Sherman, author and specialist in internal medicine and toxicology from Alexandria, Virginia.

"To assume that steam containing radioisotopes found in nuclear reactors is not going to have health effects, I think, is wishful thinking," Sherman said.

Those radioisotopes, such as iodine-131, strontium-90, and cesium-137, get taken in by the body.  As they decay, they give off energy in the form of gamma rays, beta rays that penetrate deep through tissues, and alpha rays that damage DNA.  Sherman likens them to harmful chemicals that settle in various tissues of the body.

"We know that radioactive iodine, which goes to the thyroid, can cause cancer and stunt children's growth," said Sherman, adding that exposure during pregnancy can damage the fetal brain.  "We know strontium-90 goes to bones and teeth and is linked to leukemia and immune dysfunction.  And we know cesium goes to soft tissues, like muscle and breast tissue.

The Japanese government has evacuated 184,670 residents from 10 towns in the 20-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding the plant -- a distance that Sherman said might not be sufficient.

"We know nuclear radiation [from Chernobyl] drifted as far as North America," Sherman said.

Drifting fallout could also contaminate food and water beyond the evacuation zone.

"They shouldn't eat or drink anything contaminated by cesium," Sherman said. "All food and drink have to come from outside the area."

The Japanese government has distributed 230,000 units of potassium iodide to evacuation centers bordering the danger zone as a precaution, in case radiation levels surge.  Potassium iodide can block radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid -- a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Radiation Exposure: Five Things You Need to Know

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images. Satellite view of Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.(NEW YORK) -- Evacuees in Fukushima grew more fearful Monday of radiation exposure as Japan experienced its second explosion at a nuclear power plant.

On Good Morning America Monday morning, ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser discussed some potential hazards of radiation.

Here are five facts to help you better understand radiation exposure:

1. Radiation can be found naturally and nearly everywhere in the environment.  Heat, light and microwaves all emit some form of radiation.  Uranium, thorium, and radium that emit radiation are found naturally in the earth's soil.  This type of exposure is generally not considered a health concern.

2. Our bodies are all exposed to small amounts of radiation.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of human exposure comes from natural sources and the remaining 20 percent comes from man-made radiation sources, mainly medical x-rays.  Overall, scientists do not find our everyday exposures harmful.

3. During a nuclear explosion, people are overexposed to high amounts of radiation over a short period of time and may develop acute radiation syndrome (ARS).  Within the first few hours of exposure, people with ARS may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin damage.  Over time, the radiation can damage a person's bone marrow and cause internal bleeding and infections.  Most people who do not recover from ARS will die within several months of exposure.

4. Local communities should have a plan in place in case of a radiation emergency.  Check with your town to learn more about its emergency preparedness plan and possible evacuation routes.

5. During a radiation emergency, such as fears of a nuclear plant explosion, you may be advised to create a "shelter in place."  This means you should stay inside your home or office, or perhaps another confined area indoors.  To keep your shelter in place effective, you should: close and lock all doors and windows; turn off fans, air conditioners, or any units that bring in air from outside; move to an inner room or basement; keep your radio tuned to the emergency response network or local news to find out further instructions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


In Japan, Fukushima Evacuees Screened for Radiation

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Evacuees from the 13-mile-radius danger zone surrounding Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant are being screened for radiation.

Japanese health authorities confirmed that at least 22 people have been exposed to radiation following the hydrogen explosion at the plant's No. 1 reactor building early Saturday morning. Up to 160 more are suspected to have been exposed while waiting for evacuation in the nearby town of Futabe, according to Ryo Miyake, a spokesman from Japan's nuclear agency.

A cooling system malfunction at the plant's No. 3 reactor could lead to a similar explosion.

Workers wearing masks and protective clothing are using handheld scanners to measure radiation after more than 300,000 were urged to flee the 450-square mile zone.

Officials have set up evacuation centers bordering the zone and are working to establish decontamination facilities.

Depending on the level of contamination, evacuees are being advised to dispose of clothing and shower. Potassium iodide is also being distributed to guard against thyroid cancer. Iodine is taken up by the thyroid -- a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism. Radioactive iodine in environment after a nuclear accident can cause thyroid cancer. But potassium iodide can block the radioactive iodine from entering the gland.

"One of the things after Chernobyl, you saw massive numbers of cancers in children. The radioactive iodine got into the grass, the cows ate the grass, it got into the milk," said ABC News chief medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "If there is a big fallout, they'll tell people not to drink milk or eat food from that area."

Children and pregnant women are most at risk, Besser said.

Low-dose radiation has also been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Japanese authorities deny that the exposures reported so far pose any health risks.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio