Search for Meaning in Fukushima Data

At Health Physics Society Annual Conference in Sacramento last week, I spent a great deal of the time looking for information, knowledge, wisdom.  My friend and mentor, Dr. Karl Morgan, founded the Society.  But he is gone now.  I worked with him for about ten years on a pilot radiation monitoring program for the Three Mile Island Community.  He was a strong proponent of open data, and I think he would be very happy with the work Safecast has been doing since the Fukushima disaster.  He shared with me his concern about exposure to low level radiation.  When I traveled to Fukushima Prefecture in December with Safecast, I was concerned upon finding young babies in areas where outdoor surfaces were quite hot.  When I say quite hot I mean over 5,000 counts per minute using a geiger counter with an industry standard two inch pancake detector.  This level of contamination is not high enough to cause immediate or near term health effects, but would be unacceptable in a regulated hospital laboratory setting.

Why are there babies there?  One friend of mine pointed out that having babies after the trauma the region has experienced is life affirming.  I agree.   But there are other complex aspects to this that have  as much to do with politics as health physics.  And there are other factors including culture and economics.  The tendency these days is to downplay health effects of “low level” radiation.  I have waded in these waters many times in the past, in my work with various communities.  The good news is that I know many people who have been exposed to low and moderate levels of radiation who have lived long productive lives.  On the other hand I have worked in communities affected by the nuclear age that are deemed healthy in statistical data bases – yet have individuals who feel their health was impacted.  The waters are muddy, and we may not know the answers to some of my questions for years.  In the meanwhile I hope those who chose to have or stay with children in contaminated regions of Fukushima will take the time to do some research and make decisions that are both informed and life affirming.

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