Photo credit IAEA
It’s been nearly 2 &1/2 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 which sparked the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl meltdown and explosion of 1986.
Over the past 30 months crews have been working to safe and decommission the stricken Fukushima Daiichi #1 nuclear plant – a process that is expected to take decades.
About a month ago, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) admitted that the Fukushima nuclear plant was likely leaking contaminated water into the Pacific (see AP article Japan nuclear plant likely contaminating sea).
Overnight, TEPCO announced the discovery of a new leak, which involves highly radioactive water. The following coverage from AFP, BBC, and Reuters, after which I’ll have more.
Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013
TOKYO - Some 300 tonnes of radioactive water is believed to have leaked from a tank at Japan's crippled nuclear plant, the worst such leak since the crisis began, the operator said Tuesday.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said the leak was believed to be continuing Tuesday at Fukushima and it had not yet pinpointed the source of it.
TEPCO said puddles with extremely high radiation levels - about 100 millisieverts per hour - have been found near the water tanks at the ruined plant.
"This means you are exposed to the level of radiation in an hour that a nuclear plant worker is allowed to be exposed to in five years," a TEPCO spokesman told a press conference.
BBC 20 August 2013 Last updated at 06:57 ET
Radioactive water has leaked from a storage tank into the ground at Japan's Fukushima plant, its operator says.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said the leak of at least 300 tonnes of the highly radioactive water was discovered on Monday.
By Yoko Kubota and Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO | Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:31am BST
(Reuters) - Contaminated water with dangerously high levels of radiation is leaking from a storage tank at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the most serious setback to the cleanup of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
While officials are describing this newest leak as a LEVEL 1 incident – the lowest level of concern on the 7 point International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale - this is the first such declaration since the initial event in 2011.
The long term effects or implications of this release of radioactive water have not been determined, but at the very least, this is another psychological blow to those living or working in the stricken region.
Last February, in WHO: Estimated Health Risks From The Fukushima Radiation Release, we saw a report that stated the radiation risks to those living outside of the immediate Fukushima region were low, but `that the estimated risk for specific cancers in certain subsets of the population in Fukushima Prefecture has increased and, as such, it calls for long term continued monitoring and health screening for those people.’
But the press release went on to state that cancers are not the only serious long-term health consequences from the Fukushima disaster.
As well as the direct health impact on the population, the report notes that the psychosocial impact may have a consequence on health and well-being. These should not be ignored as part of the overall response, say the experts.
In Disaster’s Hidden Toll, we looked at a report on the long-term, largely unseen, effect of this disaster on nursing home patients who were forced to evacuate to temporary facilities.
The study showed a 2.4 fold increase in deaths during the 8 months following the earthquake. Deaths not caused by the quake, tsunami, or radiation release itself – but likely brought on by the stress of having to live in make-shift emergency shelters.
A unusually large number of these excess deaths were due to pneumonia or bronchitis, which many attribute to insufficient emergency shelters provided for the elderly and frail.
We’ve looked at other post-disaster health impacts in the past, such as in Post Disaster Stress & Suicide Rates. One disaster discussed was a 1999 7.3 earthquake that struck in Chi-Chi, Nantou county in central Taiwan killing more than 2,300 people.
A study that subsequently appeared in the Taiwan Journal of Medicine (Disease-specific Mortality Associated with Earthquake in Taiwan Hsien-Wen Kuo, Shu-Jen Wu, Ming-Chu Chiu) found `a considerable increase in the number of suicides after the earthquake’.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can often occur in the wake of a disaster or traumatic experience. Symptoms may include anxiety, depression, suicide and PTSD may even lead to drug and alcohol-related disorders.
Two weeks ago in WHO: Guidelines For Post-Trauma Mental Health Care we looked at a new report from the World Health Organization on post-disaster management of stress-related illness.
The aftermath of disasters often results in social, economic, and psychological upheavals (see Surviving A Different Kind Of Aftershock).
Our short attention span, combined with the news media’s proclivity for moving on to the next big disaster or story, can make us forget that the struggle to rebuild devastated families and communities can take years.
Although a good disaster plan and emergency kit are imperative to get you through the opening hours and days of a disaster, knowing how to help friends, family, and neighbors deal with the psychological effects of a disaster can be equally important.
In Psychological First Aid: The WHO Guide For Field Workers we looked a simple guidebook anyone can use to help others in emotional distress.
The CDC also provides a website which contains a number of resources devoted to coping with disasters.
Trauma and Disaster Mental Health Resources
The effects of a disaster, terrorist attack, or other public health emergency can be long-lasting, and the resulting trauma can reverberate even with those not directly affected by the disaster. This page provides general strategies for promoting mental health and resilience. These strategies were developed by various organizations based on experiences in prior disasters.
As does the National Center For PTSD - including videos - on how to provide Psychological First Aid.
For Disaster Responders
Developed jointly with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, PFA is an evidence-informed modular approach for assisting people in the immediate aftermath of disaster and terrorism: to reduce initial distress, and to foster short and long-term adaptive functioning.
A small reminder that not all wounds bleed, not all fractures will show up on an X-ray, and that the best treatment may not always reside inside your first aid kit.