Tokyo ignored calls to issue iodine during crisis

October 26, 2011

By YURI OIWA / Staff Writer

As the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was spewing radiation, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan urged the central government to issue iodine tablets to residents in affected areas. But Tokyo apparently ignored the advice.

Iodine tablets help to protect the thyroid gland from the effects of radiation exposure.

At least 900 people should have been issued the medication under the NSCJ's safety standards, but the central government did not issue instructions to municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture to lessen the health risk faced by residents.

Had those people taken the tablets, they would have markedly lowered the absorption of radiation in their thyroid glands following hydrogen explosions at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactor buildings on March 14 and 15, respectively.

Cesium and strontium were among radioactive materials leaked from the plant.

Under existing guidelines, the task force set up in Fukushima to handle the nuclear crisis is supposed to act on advice given by the NSCJ. As such, it was negligent in not issuing directives for iodine tablets to be handed out.

Early in the morning of March 13, the day after the explosion at the No. 1 reactor building, the NSCJ said it contacted the central government's crisis headquarters in Tokyo to suggest that iodine tablets be issued. The NSCJ said it discussed the issue with officials there twice via fax.

Gen Suzuki, a member of an advisory panel at the NSCJ and president of the International University of Health and Welfare, said, "I sent a statement (to the headquarters) a few times saying residents with at least 10,000 cpm of radiation should take iodine tablets."

The cpm, or counts per minute, is a measurement of radiation that is emitted per minute from radioactive substances detected on a person's body.

Later that same day, the crisis headquarters in Fukushima faxed the NSCJ a draft statement to be issued to municipal governments in the prefecture.

It made no mention of iodine tablets, the NSCJ said.

The NSCJ then repeated its advice to the headquarters in Tokyo.

The draft statement, which the NSCJ later made public, mentions the NSCJ's advice that (if radiation levels exceed certain levels) "decontaminating the person and making the person take iodine tablets are required."

"We talked to members of medical and radioactive teams involved in dealing with the aftermath of the nuclear accident, but we haven't been able to find the faxes (sent by the NSCJ)," said Kenji Matsuoka, a member of the headquarters in Tokyo and chief of the Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Division at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, at a meeting of a task force handling this matter at the NSCJ.

The central government's panel tasked with assessing the accident at the Fukushima plant is expected to investigate the matter.

According to the prefectural government, of about 230,000 residents who underwent radiation checks at health care and evacuation centers in the prefecture since March 13, some 900 people showed readings of at least 13,000 cpm of radiation.

The 900 figure was mostly based on results made available Oct. 20.

By YURI OIWA / Staff Writer
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