Friday, April 15, 2011

Radiation Stress - Anxiety over radiation dose & discrimination

The anxiety characteristic of radiation disasters is increasing in those who had evacuated their home due to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Specialists in psychological care point out that it is imperative to take steps to help stabilize the state of mind of those affected.

A disaster victim receiving radiation screening at Azuma General Athletic Park in Fukushima City (photo taken by Koichi Nakamura)

Refuge life amplifies the anxiety, countermeasures urgently needed
Ms. Maki Isai (38), a homemaker of Kajima-Ku, Minamisoma City, who lives in the evacuation shelter at the Azuma Sogo Athletic Park of Fukushima City, said that the invisibility of radiation amplifies her anxiety. She evacuated with her 10-year-old and 2-year-old children on March 19, even though her home is located outside the evacuation zone (20-30 kilometer radius around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex) by one kilometer. That is because she heard that children were susceptible to the effect of radiation. Her husband remains in their house due to his work. She fears that her children may be discriminated because they are from Minamisoma and they cannot marry in the future.
In the case of Ms. Etsuko Saito (62) of Odaka-ku, Minamisoma City, an evacuee at a shelter in Soma City, her eldest daughter and two grandchildren who had lived with Ms. Saito evacuated to Tokyo. She said in tears, “The earthquake destroyed our house, but still we can clean up the mess. However, we cannot do anything about radiation…”
Mr. Susumu Matsumoto (52), a carpenter of Namiemachi (Fukushima Pref.) which is located in the evacuation zone, came to an evacuation center in Fukushima City. He fled from Namiemachi with his work clothes on as he was urged by his 16-year-old daughter who was frightened by the hydrogen explosion on March 12.  His wife stays with her elderly mother in Namiemachi. He moved around with his daughter and his eldest son (20) to look for an evacuation center where they could stay. He spoke of his distress, “We cannot take it anymore. What will happen to our job and school? How long will we have to endure anxiety? We want a clear answer to them.”
The crisis level of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident is now rated same as Chernobyl, a “level 7,” which is the worst on the international scale. However, the cumulative dose of atmospheric radiation exposure has been lower than 100 millisieverts, which is the lowest level at which health effects from radiation, such as carcinogenesis, become more likely. According to Japan’s Nuclear Safety Committee, for the general population, the level of radiation exposure at this time will have no impact on their physical well-being in the future. However, radiation disasters might not affect their physical well-being but could seriously affect their psychological well-being due to “radiation stress.”
Professor Takako Konishi of Musashino University, who is an expert in Disaster Psychology, says, “Radiation has many factors that make people feel anxious in that radiation is invisible, radiation exposure is not preventable by individual effort, and radiation has a strong image of adverse health effects.”
We cannot relieve anxiety completely, but the important thing after disasters is to “ensure safety and peace of mind” and “stabilize lifestyle.” People tend to feel more anxious when their daily life is not stable.  It is imperative to provide those affected with temporary housing as soon as possible and show how they could get back into life in specific terms.
It is necessary to communicate scientifically-based information repeatedly as well as to eliminate discrimination against those who were exposed to even low level radiation. To simply repress anxiety by saying “No problem” is unhelpful in resolving the issue. It is very important to listen and respond to the feeling of anxiety of those affected.
Professor Takako Konishi states that man-made disasters inflict greater damage on people’s minds than natural disasters. Furthermore, people tend to experience anxiety after radiation disasters.
It is imperative to relieve as much anxiety of the people in Fukushima as possible.

April 14, 2011  The Yomiuri Shimbun

Translated by Mikiko Yamashita

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