Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Asahi's One-Year Anniversary Interview with Dr. Shunichi Yamashita

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:

痛み分かち合う行動を 山下俊一氏に聞く

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:

事実は1ミリシーベルト浴びると1個の遺伝子に傷が付く、100ミリシーベルト浴びると100個付く。1回にですよ。じゃあ、今問題になっている10マイ クロシーベルト、50マイクロシーベルトという値は、実は傷が付いたか付かないかわからん。付かんのです。ここがミソです。

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.


kintaman said...

Dr Yamashita will go down in history as being responsible for the deaths of thousand upon thousands. Monster. I am surprised no one has taken him down yet.

Anonymous said...

"There is something very sick about the Japanese psyche."

I first travelled to Japan to study it's wonderful culture and have spent many years there doing so. I'm sorry to say, though, that especially since last year I have found too much evidence to support the above statement. I don't know if it's the centuries of isolation, the totalitarian governments (regulating everything during the Edo period, or the militarism leading up to WWI), the rapid "development" after WWII, the extreme technophilia.....or a toxic combination of all the above.

If this only affected Japan, it would be one thing, but it affects the whole world. An acquaintance in Japan generalizes thus: Japanese are poorly programmed robots and Americans are out-of-control children. Together they're messing up a good part of the world these days.

Anonymous said...


Weep, not smile.

Anonymous said...

I'm no sociologist, but it would appear to me that any society which is under constant threat from natural disasters tends towards 'strong' leadership and fairly strict control of their daily lives, their etiquette and even their thinking.

This gives the general population the order and stability that the human condition craves.

Unfortunately for the Japanese people, the Fukushima incident is not a natural disaster.

This is new territory for the Japanese people. After previous natural disasters, there is always the (correct) foregone assumption that there is a 'brighter future' ahead, with grieving, rebuilding and regaining confidence accepted as inevitable.

The unnatural Fukushima disaster offers no such comfort for the future. I would imagine most citizens are shell-shocked and are living 'zombie' lives, going through the motions of living normally, but all the time worried sick. Stress will increase massively as time goes by. This angst needs to be channelled in the right directions.

The Japanese people have huge changes ahead of them. Coupled with a clear and present danger that the world economy is close to collapse, the Japanese people may be forced to change their subservient mindset and take greater responsibility for themselves and their families. Incidentally, I think this forced change is coming worldwide, but for differing reasons in each part of the world.

The immediate shutdown and dismantling of all nuclear power stations is the most important thing any country can do at this moment. In the event of an economic collapse, these stations will start popping like popcorn all over the world.

Rule by corrupt government and corporate interests is in it's last great flourish. We are moving into new paradigms. I hope the Japanese people rise to the challenges that face them, and would wish them luck, but they don't need luck, they need sound judgement.

Anonymous said...

@2:28 AM:
very good summary, imho. although i think the general lack of questioning of authority is much more complex in origin. either way, it's almost game over now...

a female Faust said...

once again, i am moved enough to comment, .as enthusistically as if my saying 'excellent' actually consisted of information (my own experience, however vivid, is merely echoed weakly by the word). but i know that many excellent things go unremarked in this world, to its loss. so: bravo, and may heaven bless you.

Post a Comment