Sunday, August 19, 2012

Do not underestimate the severity of the Fukushima nuclear crisis: interview

Before her retirement in 2000 from the University of Bremen in Germany, Inge Schmitz-Feuerhake had been an experimental physicist who some 30 years ago had analyzed data on nuclear bomb survivors and warned of the dangers of low-level and internal exposure to radiation.

Since 2004, she has been the chair of the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR), a Belgium-based civic organization founded in 1997 independent of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), and various governments. In 2003 and 2010, the ECRR released recommendations on radiation risk assessment methods.

Mainichi: In 1983, you published an essay criticizing a survey on the health of nuclear bomb victims that was conducted by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF). What was your paper about?

Schmitz-Feuerhake: The RERF survey compared the health risks of those who directly experienced the bombings with those who'd entered hypocentral areas after the bombs exploded and those who were farther away at the times of the bombings.

Using the average incidence and death rate from cancer and other illnesses among all Japanese, I went to figure out the relative risks of those who entered the cities after the bombings and those who experienced the bomb at least 2.5 kilometers away from the hypocenter. What I found was that the death rate from leukemia and respiratory and gastrointestinal cancers was above the national average, and that the incidence of thyroid cancer, leukemia, and breast cancer among women were 1.5 times to 4.1 times higher.

These results showed that internal exposure to radiation from radioactive fallout (including "black rain" and "ashes of death") had a great impact on health. But because my findings went against common academic knowledge at the time, my paper was initially rejected when I submitted it for publication in an international medical journal. On the suggestion of the journal, I subsequently had it published in the journal in the form of a "letter to the editor" instead of a scientific paper. Read More