The studies looked at nuclear accidents as those that took place at Fukushima and Chernobyl and stated that in the long-term, the psychological impact on the population exceeds the impact of radiation and possible contamination.
PTSD and stigma are two of the most common occurrences that heavily impact mental health. The majority of those who are evacuated from the risk zones live a life in fear. Fear of having been contaminated, the ongoing radiation risk and particularly with women, fear that their children will be the ones bearing the effects of the nuclear disasters.
In the aftermath of Fukushima when radioactive material leaked as the March tsunami heavily hit the nuclear power plant, 170,000 people settled within a 30 kilometers radius were displaced.
No deaths were registered, and the effects of the leaked radioactive material are still under scrutiny. However, one report released by the UN two years following the nuclear disaster concluded that cancer rates are not expected to spike, contradicting a Japanese report that stated thyroid cancer in children is expected to spike, particularly among those that were most exposed to radiation.
The Lancet studies, which mark 70 years since Nagasaki and Hiroshima, conclude that psychological and social effects are far greater than health risks in the aftermath of nuclear disasters.
“Although the radiation dose to the public from Fukushima was relatively low, and no discernible physical health effects are expected, psychological and social problems, largely stemming from the differences in risk perceptions, have had a devastating impact on people’s lives”,
stated Doctor Koichi Tanigawa of Fukushima Medical University and lead author of one of the studies.
Another devastating nuclear disaster and highly mediatized is Chernobyl. Since 1986, a UN report from 2006 states, the rates of PTSD and depression are still high. According to the report, the most serious public health risk is that of mental health issues, which largely exceed the health problems as a result of radiation.
Chernobyl caused the death of 28 people, while another 134 workers that were directly involved in the nuclear disaster emergency response developed acute radiation syndrome, which is fatal. The aftermath of Fukushima registered no casualties.
However, on the long run,
“One of the key tasks of the health services is to reliably communicate that in most nuclear accidents, very few people are exposed to a life-threatening dose of radiation”,
report the authors of the studies.
Mental health of the population in the vicinity of a nuclear plant that suffers an accident is heavily impacted. Stigma and displacement, to which experts add the constant fear of what the future may bring regarding the late effects of radiation, particularly on children’s health or future pregnancies are just as many factors that create a build up in mental health issues.
These adverse social effects are long-lasting and deeply mark communities.
Parallel to understanding the health risks of radiation, even years after a nuclear disaster, a new management framework should be developed to address particularly the mental health of the displaced population.
Photo Credits: darkroom.baltimoresun.com
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