FOUR YEARS AFTER: A-bomb survivors research institute to monitor Fukushima plant workers via the Asahi Shimbun

A research institute formed to study the effects of radiation on the survivors of the atomic bombings will start lifelong health surveys on workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 2011 accident.

The Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), jointly operated by Japan and the United States, will survey about 20,000 workers who were engaged in emergency work, such as the removal of debris, during the period to Dec. 16, 2011.

According to RERF, based in Hiroshima, the research organization will investigate whether the workers are suffering from cancer or leukemia. It will undertake the survey, which will be subsidized by the health ministry, in cooperation with universities and medical institutions throughout the country.

Researchers at RERF plan to ask several questions, including what jobs the workers did, when they performed them, and the location. Based on their responses, the researchers will estimate how much radiation each worker was exposed to.

The researchers will continuously conduct health checkups on the workers to determine the aftereffects of their exposure to radiation. The survey will continue until the deaths of the workers.

According to the health ministry, the upper limit of accumulated radiation each worker is exposed to at the nuclear plant had been determined to be 100 millisieverts in five years in conventional cases. During the period from March 14 to Dec. 16, 2011, however, the government raised the limit to 250 millisieverts so that workers could remain on the job for longer hours.

Of the 20,000 people who worked at the plant during the nine-month period, 174 were exposed to accumulated radiation of more than 100 millisieverts. Because of that, an experts’ council of the ministry last year discussed the implementation of health surveys.

Of the 20,000 workers, about 2,000 currently reside in Fukushima Prefecture. As for these workers, the RERF plans to start health surveys as early as this month.

The predecessor of RERF is the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), which was set up by the United States in 1947 to determine the health effects the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 had on survivors. As the successor to the organization, the RERF was jointly established by the governments of Japan and the United States in 1975.

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