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International nuclear accident expert comments on WHO report

Professor Jim Smith

Professor Jim Smith

The World Health Organisation (WHO) today released the results of a comprehensive assessment by international experts on the health risks associated with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan in 2011.

Professor Jim Smith, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Portsmouth, is an international expert in nuclear accidents.

He said:  ” The report has found that  the additional health risk to the most affected population at Fukushima is very much less than health risks of smoking or being very overweight. The additional radiation risk is also likely to be lower than the health risk from passive smoking, or living in a city with relatively high levels of air pollution.

According to WHO, for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted health risks are low, with no observable increase in cancer rates expected.

Professor Smith’s extensive experience studying the environmental impacts of the Chernobyl accident, and how to apply the lessons learnt from this to the Fukushima community, means he has a substantial reputation in this field.

He said: “The report found that the most affected people received a lifetime radiation dose of up to 50 milli-Sieverts (mSv), which is a third of the total amount of background radiation the average British person receives in their lifetime as a result of background radiation and medical processes such as X-Rays.

“Whilst this is serious, it is not a high exposure.

“We don’t yet have all the data, however the report’s findings imply that, as expected, the health consequences of Fukushima (in particular the incidence of thyroid cancer) will be much less than those of the Chernobyl accident.

In Japan, men have about a 40 percent lifetime risk of developing cancer of an organ while a woman’s lifetime risk is about 29 percent. For those most hit by the radiation after Fukushima, their chances of cancer would rise by about 1 percent.

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.

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