Two studies examine psychological status of Fukushima workers after nuclear plant disaster

Published on August 16, 2012 at 1:02 AM · No Comments

The results of two studies in the August 15 issue of JAMA report on the psychological status of workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan several months after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and the amount of internal radiation exposure among residents of a city north of the power plant that experienced a meltdown.

As reported in a Research Letter, Jun Shigemura, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Defense Medical College, Saitama, Japan, and colleagues examined the psychological status of Fukushima workers 2 to 3 months after the disaster for symptoms of general psychological distress, including posttraumatic stress response (PTSR). The study included all full-time workers from the Daiichi plant (n = 1,053; plant experienced meltdown) and Daini plant (n = 707; plant experienced damage but remained intact) in May and June 2011. Using a self-report questionnaire, the researchers assessed sociodemographic characteristics and disaster-related experiences, including discrimination/slurs because the electric company that managed these plants was criticized for their disaster response and the workers have been targets of discrimination. Measures of general psychological distress included feeling nervous, hopeless, restless/fidgety, depressed, and worthless in the last 30 days.

Of 1,760 eligible workers, 1,495 (85 percent) participated (Daiichi: n = 885 [84 percent]; Daini: n = 610 [86 percent]). The authors found that compared with Daini workers, Daiichi workers were more often exposed to disaster-related stressors. Experiencing discrimination or slurs was not statistically significantly different between groups (14 percent vs. 11 percent). The researchers found that general psychological distress and PTSR were common in nuclear plant workers 2 to 3 months after the disaster. "Daiichi workers had significantly higher rates of psychological distress (47 percent vs. 37 percent) and PTSR (30 percent vs. 19 percent). For both groups, discrimination or slurs were associated with high psychological distress and high PTSR. Other significant associations in both groups included tsunami evacuation and major property loss with psychological distress and pre-existing illness and major prop­erty loss with PTSR."

Study Finds Low Levels of Radiation Exposure to Residents of City North of Meltdown

In another Research Letter, Masaharu Tsubokura, M.D., of the University of Tokyo, and colleagues conducted a study to gauge the level of radiation exposure to residents of the city of Minamisoma, located 14 miles north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. "Release of radioactive material into the air, water, and soil raised concern about internal radiation exposure and the long-term risk of cancer in nearby residents," they write.

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