The good doctor's good words were all over Fukushima Prefecture as fresh radioactive fallout from Fukushima descended on the cities and towns in Fukushima on March 20 and 21, 2011.
"No effect on health below 100 millisieverts radiation exposure."
"If you laugh, radiation won't get you."
"Children can play outdoors."
"You're the proud descendants of Byakko-tai (suicide squad made of young men and boys in the battle in the beginning of the Meiji era), aren't you?"
His associates at Nagasaki University went to Iitate-mura in Fukushima and told the villagers:
"Not a problem if you continue to live here. Just wash your vegetables, that's all."
"If the radiation level is below 10 microsieverts/hour, it's safe for children."
As the result of this wonderful news, villagers with children who had evacuated came back, to be told few days later that they were not supposed to eat vegetables and drink water from their land and that they had to evacuate for a long time.
One year after, Dr. Yamashita defends himself in the Asahi interview (local Nagasaki version, 3/12/2012) by blaming the radiation phobia of the general public, and urge all Japanese to "share the pain and burden". To be expected from a reporter in a Japanese paper, there is no critical question to the doctor:
Interview with Dr. Shunichi Yamashita: "Actions needed to share the pain"
From Nagasaki University to the Vice President of Fukushima Medical University
What's the role of Nagasaki in the disaster recovery? We asked Dr. Shunichi Yamashita (age 59) who has been in direct contact with the residents in Fukushima Prefecture as the vice president of Fukushima Medical University where he moved from Nagasaki University.
- What's the current situation in Fukushima?
"Initially, there was no information, and the radiation phobia was rampant. But now things have settled down. But there is a stress from environmental contamination and food safety, and the fear of people is not dispelled. It is still in the state of emergency."
- You were criticized as someone who ignored the risks from low-level radiation exposure and emphasized "safety" too much.
"My standard is, unless you are exposed to radiation at 100 millisieverts or more in a single episode, there is no increase in cancer risks. It is based on the experience of medical treatment of atomic bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the data from the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident. There was no information initially [about the extent of radiation in Fukushima, I suppose], so I told them [residents in Fukushima] to scare them in a correct way."
"But the talk of the actual health risks was confused with the standard for radiation safety and protection. 1 millisievert/year radiation exposure limit for non-radiation workers took its own meaning and spread. It was considered the safety limit, and that it was dangerous above that limit. I am not saying it's OK to get radiation exposure up to 100 millisieverts. But out of the blue [researchers] were grouped into the "safety" faction and the "danger" faction.
- Medium- and long-term health surveys for all Fukushima residents has started
"Health surveys are the largest responsibility of us in the medical field. We have to watch out for people who continue to live in Fukushima out of their own choice. Today, nearly 2 million people struggle to live in Fukushima, suffering baseless rumors. It is irresponsible to tell these people to leave Fukushima by fanning the danger."
- What should be the recovery support from Nagasaki, as [one of the two] sites that suffered atomic bomb attacks?
"Interaction between people in Nagasaki and Fukushima is very encouraging. We should consider receiving workers to Nagasaki, not just sending workers from Nagasaki to Fukushima. Another contribution is to buy Fukushima rice, fruits, and sake at regular prices. There is no problem if the residual radioactive materials are below the government standards. We should separate the legal, regulatory issues and the actual health risks."
- What should we do now?
"Take disaster debris for example. It is natural to have an initial reaction like "no way". But that has to be overcome. Our ability to take action is being questioned - whether we make up our mind to share the pain and burden. That's what we should do in the 2nd year, 3rd year [of the accident]."
So Dr. Yamashita was talking about a single, episodic exposure of 100 millisieverts? That's not how I remember. So I went to the original Japanese transcript of the lecture he held on March 21 in Fukushima City, in which he said:
The fact is that if you're exposed to 1 millisievert, one DNA is damaged. If you're exposed to 100 millisieverts, 100 DNA are damaged. At one time, mind you. 10 microsieverts or 50 microsieverts we're talking about now causes hardly any damage. Hardly any. That's the point.
So he did say "one time" exposure. It's not clear what 10 or 50 microsieverts exposure he was talking about, or whether he was saying that was all people in Fukushima was exposed to. At that time (March 21, 2011), people would not or could not differentiate between the episodic radiation exposure and the chronic radiation exposure. So people came away thinking unless they were exposed to 100 millisieverts total, there would be no problem. That's misleading to say the least, deceptive at worst.
Share the pain and burden. Spread the radioactive debris, spread the contaminated foods, firewood, fish, mushrooms, leaf compost, garbage ashes, used cars, let's all get sick so that people in Fukushima wouldn't feel so bad for staying (the decision they have supposedly have made). Is that it, Doctor?
There is something very sick about the Japanese psyche.