Government to improve medical care response to nuclear accidents

November 05, 2013

By YURI OIWA/ Staff Writer

The government is planning to enhance medical preparedness for nuclear accidents by designating "nuclear disaster hub hospitals" capable of treating patients with low-dose radiation exposure.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s secretariat will set up a team to discuss revisions to the current system based on lessons learned from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, sources said.

The government plans to include the new system, including special assistance teams, in its basic disaster management plan by next summer following NRA approval, according to the sources.

The core hospitals will be selected from among those offering emergency care on a daily basis within a 30-kilometer radius of a nuclear power plant and adjacent areas.

Tentatively called nuclear disaster hub hospitals, they will be designated by local governments based on national standards set by the NRA secretariat.

The hospitals will receive practical training on a regular basis so that residents in wide areas can be decontaminated and treated when they suffer from low-dose radiation exposure.

Under the current system, there are no uniform standards for appointing hospitals responsible for decontamination and medical treatments.

Local governments have traditionally selected them based on the distance from a nuclear plant and other factors, not on emergency care capabilities.

A separate group of hospitals will be designated in each region to offer specialized decontamination and medical services to patients with more severe symptoms. Candidate institutions include Fukushima Medical University, Nagasaki University, the University of Fukui, Osaka University and Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture.

Previously, only Hiroshima University and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba Prefecture were expected to fulfill such functions.

The government also plans to reinforce the support system by setting up more than 100 groups of doctors and nurses to provide medical services for patients affected by radiation.

The members will be drawn from the 1,150 disaster medical assistance teams, which are organized for natural disasters, and trained for new missions in the event of a nuclear accident.

No one was killed by direct radiation exposure in the Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But the medical system was thrown into chaos, and dozens of people died, including bedridden patients who were forced to flee from areas under evacuation orders.

The current system was introduced after two workers at a nuclear fuel processing plant died due to heavy radiation exposure in 1999. It was based on the assumption that only a limited number of residents would suffer radiation exposure.

But hospitals responsible for decontamination and medical treatments failed to adequately respond to the Fukushima disaster, which affected residents across wide areas.

Of six hospitals tasked with those missions in Fukushima Prefecture, four were in areas close to the nuclear plant where residents were ordered to evacuate or to stay indoors.

Only two were experienced in emergency care, with one equipped with a dedicated center for such operations.

The current system was inefficient partly because the science ministry is in charge of medical services for people affected by radiation, and the health ministry is responsible for emergency care in natural disasters.

The NRA secretariat, which was established after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, will oversee the new system with the goal of ensuring an effective response to nuclear accidents.

Under the NRA secretariat, the National Disaster Medical Center, affiliated with the health ministry, is expected to serve as the executive office for the new system. The center already works as the secretariat for disaster medical assistance teams.

By YURI OIWA/ Staff Writer
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Medical personnel receive training on how to treat patients affected by radiation exposure at the University of Fukui in March. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Medical personnel receive training on how to treat patients affected by radiation exposure at the University of Fukui in March. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Medical personnel receive training on how to treat patients affected by radiation exposure at the University of Fukui in March. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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