Top U.S. Nuke Regulator: Fukushima Had No 'Immediate Health Impacts;' 'Radiation Exposures ... Minimized'

July 18, 2011 - 4:45 PM

Japan, Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant

In this March 24, 2011, photo available Friday, April 1, 2011, inside of the Unit 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is seen in Okumamachi, northeastern Japan. The March 11 earthquake off Japan's coast triggered a tsunami that barreled onshore and disabled the plant. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Co. via Kyodo News)

(CNSNews.com) - Gregory B. Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Monday that the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NRC), caused by an earthquake and tsunami in March, appears to have resulted in no “immediate health impacts.”

Jaczko said that "radiation exposures" as a result of the Fukushima accident "were able to be minimized."

The NRC is the federal agency responsible for regulating civilian uses of radioactive materials in the United States, including at commercial nuclear power plants.

During a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Monday, CNSNews.com asked Jaczko (in written form) this question: “To the best of your knowledge, has anyone died or been seriously injured as the result of this accident in Japan, and is there any prognosis on how the workers of the nuclear power plant may have been affected overall? What do you know about the health effects?”

Jaczko responded: "Well we in general, members of the public, were evacuated and protective actions were taken to reduce the potential long term impacts from the accident.

"There are some workers who have received doses in excess of what we typically would look at for an emergency worker in a situation like this. But again, that’s not necessarily unexpected given the challenges of the site," he said. 

"There have been a few workers who have received some skin exposures that are significant, but at this point certainly nothing that appears to have any impact ultimately for immediate health impacts," said Jaczko.

"So that the challenge is really, are on dealing with a population [that] is displaced from their homes, which personally I believe is often a missing or not discussed health, or ultimately, impact to people," he said. "Being told to leave your home for extended periods of time is I think not something that any of us would want to deal with, and I don’t think would consider that to be something that is of no impact.

"So when we talk about the health impacts we normally just talk in terms of the radiation exposures. Because of the robustness of the nuclear programs we have in the nuclear field, they were able to be minimized. And that’s a good thing," he said.

"As I said, as I talked to people in the international community, as I talked to people in this country, I think there’s no one who believes that what happened in Japan is something that would be acceptable in this country," he said. "So that’s why we have some recommendations to help us work through that."

Jaczko, meanwhile, is not alone in his assessment of the health impact of the radiation emitted by the Fukushima accident. In March, Dr. Jay Lehr, an editor of the Nuclear Energy Encyclopedia, told CNSNews.com's Online With Terry Jeffrey that the most significant impact on human health as a result of the Fukushima accident would result from stress, not radiation.

“I have been predicting for five days that under the worst case there will not be radiation sickness among the population surrounding those plants regardless of what happens,” Lehr said. “But I will tell you for sure there will be an increase in cardiovascular problems, there will be an increase in respiratory problems, and an increase in digestive problems. And what do you think it will be from, Terry? It will be from stress.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974, enables the nation to safely use radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while ensuring that people and the environment are protected. The NRC regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection and enforcement of its requirements.