Lasting toll on mental health from Fukushima

PARIS • The most lasting health impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will likely be psychological not physical, according to a trio of studies published in The Lancet.

Moreover, the mental health toll comes not only from the trauma of dislocation and the spectre of harmful radiation, but from deficiencies in the way civic and health officials managed the crisis, yesterday's articles argued.

The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in 2011, sparked by a massive earthquake and tsunami, is one of only five nuclear power plant accidents to be rated five or higher since the advent of atomic energy. It resulted in the evacuation of 170,000 people within a 30km radius, and massive disruption of family life and local economies.

Last year, half of more than 20,000 evacuated households who responded to a government survey were still separated from family more than three years later.

But physical health impacts have been limited. In contrast to the 1986 explosion in Chernobyl that led to an increase in thyroid cancer among children, the Fukushima debacle is unlikely to cause hikes in cancer rates due to radiation exposure, said a 2013 United Nations scientific report. However, even if "no discernible physical health effects are expected, psychological and social problems, largely stemming from differences in risk perception, have had a devastating impact on people's lives", commented Fukushima Medical University's Koichi Tanigawa, who led 15 experts in assessing health impacts from nuclear accidents worldwide.

Meanwhile, three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company, operator of the Fukushima facility, may face negligence charges over the 2011 disaster, according to an independent inquest by the Tokyo Prosecutors Office yesterday .


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2015, with the headline 'Lasting toll on mental health from Fukushima'. Subscribe