Viewpoint: Unrelenting efforts of Hiroshima doctors to address threat of radiation

by Masaya Yamauchi, Deputy Editorial Writer

Nearly six months have passed since the nuclear crisis broke out at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). People in the affected areas and evacuees are especially concerned over the effects of internal exposure as a result of consuming contaminated food.

It appears that those impacted by the crisis have high expectations that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than anyone, will understand their suffering. At the same time, it is said that some residents of the affected areas hold a sense of distrust toward experts in radiation medicine. They suspect that these experts are underestimating the effects of exposure to low-dose radiation.

Current standards for radiation protection are based on data obtained through research involving A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The radiation doses were determined by calculating levels of external exposure from the initial release of radiation, and levels of internal exposure from residual radiation were not taken into consideration.

This is because the effects of residual radiation had been viewed as insignificant. However, from court rulings involving a series of lawsuits related to A-bomb survivor certification, it is clear that some aspects of the effects of radiation have yet to be explained.

As early as the 1950s in Hiroshima, local doctors were pointing out that residual radiation could be harmful to human health.

One of those doctors was the late Gensaku Oho. The private-practice doctor conducted research on 525 people who went within one kilometer of the hypocenter during the two-month period following the blast. He found that about half experienced such symptoms as fever, diarrhea, and hair loss.

Dr. Oho is also well known for organizing a research group with his fellow doctors, including the late Dr. Tomin Harada, and quickly discovering a high incidence of cancer among A-bomb survivors. The efforts of these doctors began while Japan was still under U.S. occupation, and their findings were utilized in the medical care provided to survivors.

Doctors from Hiroshima have also made contributions toward the medical support of the victims of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Dr. Nobuo Takeichi, who practices at the Hiroshima Thyroid Clinic, has paid recurring visits to victims there and sounded the alarm over the growing number of cases of thyroid cancer among children.

In Fukushima, the population is now faced with the fear of the invisible dangers of radiation. We hope to make the people of Fukushima aware of the unrelenting efforts by Hiroshima doctors to address this threat.

(Originally published on August 31, 2011)