Koichi Tanigawa: A passionate voice in radiation disaster medicine via The Lancet

Tanigawa became a fierce critic of the arrangements made to evacuate older patients from the area, many of whom died—not from radiation, which was insufficient to do much harm, but from the trauma of the evacuation itself. He acknowledges that many people over-reacted to the fear of radiation. “But I do not blame people for over-reacting because we did not have sufficient information regarding the level of radiation”, he says. Yet his criticisms were important, says Kristi Koenig, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, Irvine and Director of its Center for Disaster Medical Sciences. “That he brought this [the mishandled evacuation of the elderly] to public attention speaks to his character as somebody who wants to help the world, even if it may be embarrassing to him or to his country.” Koenig adds: “He’s an advocate for people such as the elderly who can’t do the advocacy for themselves. Having witnessed some of the very inhumane events during the evacuation of the elderly, he actually moved to Fukushima.”

[…]In March, 2015, he became Vice President of Fukushima Medical University. The university had already assumed responsibility for the health of the Fukushima evacuees, and for providing whatever treatment might become necessary. Their exposure to radiation was much less than that experienced by the people of Chernobyl, but the need to monitor them was obvious. In addition to this work, the university decided to build on efforts to recover from the disaster by creating the Fukushima Global Medical Science Center. Besides handling local issues related to the nuclear accident, it will research planning for nuclear disasters, and share its experiences with the rest of the world. Fittingly, Tanigawa is Vice Director General of the new centre and is sure to nurture its future path—as Koenig points out, “Koichi’s contribution has been outstanding. He’s one of the most passionate people I know in this field.”

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