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12

Mar

2014

Fukushima's 1.14 million iodine tablets at the time of the nuclear accident didn't reach the residents, but employees/families of FMU took them

National weekly tabloid magazine reports: “Deceptive safety message by Doctors of Fukushima Medical University”

Fukushima Medical University
Fukushima Medical University

Since the nuclear disaster in March 11, 2011, 270 000 children in Fukushima have had thyroid examinations, and 75 cases of confirmed or suspected thyroid cancer have been found. The rate is as high as 1 in every 3000 children. According to the reports of National Cancer Research Center, the rate before the accident was 1 in 1 million children, and this means the occurrence has increased 300-fold.

 

One obvious question now is whether the sudden rise of thyroid cancer cases in children is caused by the nuclear disaster. Another question is whether medical iodine tablets, which are known as protection against radioactive iodine, were successfully distributed to the residents, especially to children.

 

 

The national as well as international agencies including the Japanese government, so called, "the authorities", have the clear answer to the first question.

 

At the “International symposium of radiation and thyroid cancer”, held in Tokyo on February 21-23, 2014, The Ministry of Environment, Fukushima Medical University, OECD, and other international agencies including WHO and ICRP, concluded that it is unlikely that the thyroid cancer cases found in Fukushima after the disaster are related to radiation released from Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. In the press conference on March 24, Dr. Syunichi Yamashita, Vice-president of Nagasaki University, having represented the conference’s conclusion, said as follows.

Responding to the comments saying that some 33 children already underwent surgery of thyroid cancer, Dr. Yamashita said it is unlikely that the situation in Fukushima will be the same as Chernobyl in 5-6 years. He does not expect the cancer cases will increase because: 1) The amount of radiation released in the accident is different from Chernobyl. 2) The current cases in Fukushima have been found due to highly sophisticated screening technology. 3) So called “Harvest Effect” is happening.

 

(OurPlanetTV, February 24, 2014.  http://ourplanet-tv.org/?q=node%2F1732)

Dr. Yamashita, former Director of Fukushima Health Mangagement Suryey and a leading figure of thyroid cancer study in the world, has been actively involved in thyroid cancer research in Chernobyl for over 20 years since 1991. Dr. Yamashita was a radiation risk advisor for Fukushima prefecture at the time of the nuclear accident. Despite his experiences in Chernobyl, he assured that distributing iodine tablets to residents in Fukushima, even in the evacuation zones, was unnecessary. However, the distribution of iodine tablets had been discussed within Fukushima Medical University (FMU), especially during the first 1 week after the accident.

 

But because no permission was given by the national government and the prefecture, the plan was never carried out. .

 

Surprisingly, there was a group of people who took the iodine tablets under the circumstances. They were doctors, nurses, administrative stuff and their children/relatives, and the students of Fukushima Medical University.

How did it happen?

 

On February 21, 2014, the article called ““Deceptive safety message by Doctors of Fukushima Medical University” appeared in the popular tabloid magazine Friday. Mr. Shun Kirishima, the freelance writer of the article, reported in the magazine that a local physician obtained a document from the FMU.

The documents states that FMU provided iodine tablets not only to medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, but also their children, the other non-medical professional employees, and the students. The distribution inside FMU started March 12, right after the hydrogen explosion in the reactor No.1. The article says that FMU obtained more than 4000 tablets in total from the prefecture. At one of the medical wards in the university, even as many as 1000 tablets were provided to its workers and families.

On the other hand, despite that Fukushima prefecture prepared a total of 1,14 million tablets with the help of medical institutions outside Fukushima and distributed some of them to the municipal communities, the prefecture did not give the final go-sign for taking them.

The only exception was Miharu town, which took the decision by themselves. A prefectural worker explained, “It was not only the lack of data about contamination, but also that we were influenced by the statements of the medical authority”.

(Friday, P 34-35, Issue March 7)

 

Actually, this fact has been already reported by national newspaper Asahi Shimbun last year. The series of articles, ’The trap of Prometheus’, digs into more details about the chaotic situations of many institutions in Fukushima at the time of the nuclear accident. According to the series of articles (No.18 to 23), FMU was in total shock and confusion after the hydrogen explosion that occurred in March 12 and the spike of radiation level in the Fukushima Daiichi following the explosion. Some of the employees were even expressing their intention to leave Fukushima with their children. To calm them down and keep the situation under control, the university had decided to provide iodine tablets not only to the workers but also to their children.

 

The university arranged iodine tablets from a phemaceutical company and distributed them to all employees under 40 years old. on March 17, tablets were provided to the children of employees of the nursing section, 385 children under age 15. By the 19th, more tablets had been provided to further 814 children of non-medical employees. The distribution spread to university instructors and office employees later on.

 

At the very same time, the National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS) announced a remark about iodine intake. They cautioned: 1. Do not take over-the-counter mouthwash, which includes iodine. 2) Medical iodine tablets must be taken in indicated locations under supervised instructions. This basically means arbitrary intake was not authorized.

 

Despite the firm remark of NIRS, some of the medical professionals such as pediatricians and pharmacists in FMU had discussed the plan to distribute iodine tablets to prefectural residents. But there was no go-sign from the national and prefectural governments, so distribution to the residents was kept on hold. Under this circumstance, the university imposed an order of silence on its employees about their iodine intake. The decision for iodine distribution had been left in the hands of Dr. Yamashita, the chairman of Japanese thyroid association and Fukushima prefectural radiological health risk advisor.

 

Dr. Yamashita arrived in FMU on March 18, and he gave a lecture to 300 workers in that evening. Yamashita affirmed anxious workers that radiation exposure of the residents would be under1mSv/year at a distance of 30 km away to the west of the nuclear power plant, Therefore, he concluded, distributing iodine tablets was not necessary.

 

 

(Asahi Shinbun, The trap of Prometheus, Issue No.18 to 22).

 

 

The trap of prometehus (Asahi newspaper) summarized Yamashita’s comments as follows:

 

1. The belief that medical iodine tablet can prevent thyroid cancer is a widespread rumor. It is just an “iodine myth”. Japanese would absorb only 15-20% of radioactive iodine, unlike Belarus, of which absorption rate is 40-50%.

2. The amount of radiation exposure in the 20 and 30 km radius zones are probably under 1 mSv/year. Compared to Chernobyl, the irradiation level remains low. That is why the government of Japan does not give an order to give iodine tablets.

3. The instruction for the intake of iodine contains many mistakes. I wish it would not be used.

 

( Quoted from The trap of Prometheus, Issue No.20, issued on January 7, 2013)

 

FMU doctors' plan to distribite iodine pills were rejected by Dr. Yamashita for the following reasons: 

 

1. Such an action is not listed in the manual of Nuclear Safety Agency.

2. There is a risk of faulty dosage and it is hard to deal with the possible side effect.

3. The effect of the iodine tablets is doubtful when taken with drinks.

 

(Quoted from The Trap of Prometheus, Issue No. 21, Issued on January 8, 2013)

 

The words of Yamashita, who had been a director of Japanese Thyroid Society, held absolute power. However, Dr. Yamashita later answered in the Asahi interview that he did not realize the radiation level in Fukushima was far higher than the initial prediction and it may have been better if medical iodine had been given to residents.(The trap of Prometheus, Issue No.22, January 9, 2013) .

Dr. Makoto Akashi, Director of the Center for Acute Radiation Exposure Studies in NIRS, who had opposed the distribution of medical iodine at that time, also mentioned, ‘Now, in retrospect, I see we should have given the iodine tablets” in the interview by Asahi Shimbun in June 2013. (The trap of Prometheus, Issue No.23, Issued on January 10, 2013)

 

Not only rejecting distribution, Dr. Yamashita repeatedly told Fukushima residents on many occasions that there was no need to worry about radiation exposure, and children could even play outside. He also said Fukushima foods were safe to eat.

Mr. Masa Ikeda, a Koriyama resident and blogger, recalls that he listened to Yamashita’s talk on the radio when the disaster chaos and confusion had struck his workplace. Ikeda, a care-worker in a nursing home, which became a temporary shelter for elderly people from evacuation zones, did not have knowledge about radiation just like many others. Information provided by an expert such as Dr. Yamashita was desperately needed. He even recorded Yamashita’s talk and let others listen to it to assure their safety against radiation. But later he found out from a friend that Yamashita’s story was all fabrication. Ikeda investigated by himself and was convinced that his friend was right. It was a total shock for him. The rage and sadness that he felt at that time still haunts him after 3 years.

 

Friday reports that – based on Yamashita’s suggestion – FMU decided not to distribute iodine tablets to Fukushima residents while providing more than 4000 tablets to their own employees and their families.

 

Here are the comments of the university and the prefectural employees on the issue: 

“After the accident, some workers stopped coming to work. The confusion was widespread among the employees.

To regulate the confusion, the leaders of the university made a decision to distribute iodine. In addition, they ordered employees not to say anything about it to the outside, since FMU would not make a recommendation to the prefectural government about taking iodine”. (FMU employee)

 

Answering the question why only FMU employees and their relatives took iodine tablets, the section of Public Relations in FMU says:

 

“As a medical institution, FMU had acknowledged that it had to remain on the disaster site until the last moment. Under the circumstances where there wasn’t enough information and data, the university took bold steps to provide iodine tablets to its employees and their families in order to make them calm. The reason why we provided the iodine to students was because they became anxious, too. The university posed a secrecy order on it, saying we could not make our own regulations, since the government and the prefecture had not imposed any protective measures on the general residents”. (Section of Strategic PR, FMU)

 

According to the national regulation at that time, the taking of medical iodine tablets was indicated when the accumulated radiation exposure of the thyroid exceeded 100 mSv for a one-year old child. However, the values calculated later for the Fukushima disaster was way more than the value presented in the regulation, even in a city such as Date, 30 km away from the power plants.

 

The regional medical section of Fukushima prefecture initially said they did not have any confirmation on the fact, but after being shown the document obtained from FMU, they admitted the distribution of iodine to FMU. An employee, then the chief of the section, said:

“We distributed the iodine to the towns and cities in the 50 km radius from the power plant, but we didn’t give any order to take them because there wasn’t enough data to rely on for the decision. We distributed the iodine to FMU for the doctors who would work in the radiation affected areas. If they have given the iodine to the families and students, the act is questionable".

The order of taking iodine could have inflamed public anxiety and it was surely a difficult situation to make a right decision because of insufficient information.

 

However, Dr. Yasuhshi Takemoto, a physician and a member of “Project of Protecting Children’s Health and Safety in Koriyama”, who demanded the information disclosure, criticizes the attitudes of FMU.

 

“There were mothers who made every effort to get iodine tablets for their children, asking around medical institutions about it. As a medical professional like the doctors in FMU, I can’t tolerate the fact that the doctors themselves were taking the pills despite that they were not recommending residents to take iodine, instead assuring that the situation was safe enough. The prefectural government should have given the signal to the residents to take iodine as they gave the iodine to FMU”.

(Extracted from Friday, Issue March 7, p35)

 

Mr. Ikeda in Koriyama had a chance to take a look of the document that Dr. Takemoto obtained. The official record of the comprehensive meeting in where the president of FMU attended even included the following precise description, as a manual: “Make regulation for the medical iodine intake by medical professionals” and “Medical iodine has already been distributed to emergency medical crews. Distribute to all under age 40. Take 2 tablets at a time”.

 

There is no doubt that FMU employees and their families took iodine pills. But the pills weren’t distributed to the residentsts, and the university told them to be quiet. As Dr. Takemoto commented for 'Friday", the ethical issue is raised on the action of FMU medical professionals and this matter should be discussed more widely not only in the local media, but also in the national media. Moreover, how about the responsibility of the national and prefectural government and medical experts such as radiation risk advisors? Ikeda and Dr. Takemoto actually say they feel indignation more strongly with those who were in charge of controlling the disaster sites and situations.

 

Curiously, there was one municipality that didn’t wait for instruction from the government and the experts about iodine after the disaster. Miharu town, which is located 50 km west of the power plants and 30 km south of Fukushima city, is a former castle town, famous for many Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and beautiful cherry blossom flowers around them. Miharu itself did not have earthquake and tsunami damage, but it received evacuees from the coastal areas. The mayor of this small town had decided to obtain the iodine from the prefectural office on March 14 and the Miharu residents took them together under the instruction of the town authority on March 15.A Miharu resident explains about this action in a parenting magazine Hahanotomo, which features about the town 2 years after the earthquake: 

 

“I have heard that one of the evacuees had a professional background and the town authorities started considering to take the iodine. Not only the town officials, but also doctors and public health nurses joined to make decision because the timing and the amount of the medicine were crucial. They first decided to obtain the tablet, then went to the prefectural office to get them. The town officials divided the tablets into small bags for each family, sitting up all night, and these had been distributed to all families in the town by the day after. The town recommended all residents who were under age 39 to take them at once”.

 

(Quoted from Hahanotomo -Friend of Mothers-,  Fukuinkan-shoten, Issue May, 2013, p29)

This decision was later criticized by the national and prefectural authorities as “a selfish act without the authorization of the government”.

 

However, 3 months later that the government disclosed the information with the SPEEDI, which indicated that the calculated values of radiation exposure was way more than 100 mSv in many areas even outside the 30 km radius from the power plant. The medical iodine that the prefecture prepared, despite the plentiful supply, didn’t reach most of the residents, except for the FMU medical professionals, the employees and their families. After 3 years since the worst nuclear disaster of mankind, the parents in Fukushima have lived with the fear and anxiety of child thyroid cancer. On the other hand, the national, prefectural, and medical institutions, including FMU, which did not issue any order to take iodine, are echoing together that there is no apparent relation between child thyroid cancer and radiation from the crippled power plant and it is unlikely that the number of the cancer cases will increase in the future.

 

(English text by WNSCR team)

 

References:

The trap of Prometehus:Doctors go the Frontline. Issue Nol.1-24, October 19 to November 13, Asashi Shiubun,

Friiday Magazine, Issue March 7. 2014, p34-35, Kodansya

Hahanotomo-friend of mothers-, May 2013, Fukuinkan shoten

 

Fukushiman-Masa's blog http://ameblo.jp/masa219koro/

OutPlanet TV http://ourplanet-tv.org/?q=node%2F1732

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