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Post-Meltdown, Psychological Distress Up Among Workers

Last Updated: August 14, 2012.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, triggering the subsequent meltdown of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, correlated with an increase in the levels of psychological distress of power plant workers; but, six months to one year later, radiation exposure among individuals in a neighboring community was low, according to two letters to the editor published in the Aug. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

TUESDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, triggering the subsequent meltdown of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, correlated with an increase in the levels of psychological distress of power plant workers; but, six months to one year later, radiation exposure among individuals in a neighboring community was low, according to two letters to the editor published in the Aug. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Jun Shigemura, M.D., Ph.D., from the National Defense Medical College in Saitama, Japan, and colleagues used a self-reported questionnaire to examine the psychological status of Fukushima Daiichi workers two to three months after the disaster. The researchers found that, compared with 610 workers at the Daini nuclear power plant, significantly higher rates of psychological distress and posttraumatic stress response were seen among the 885 Daiichi workers (psychological distress: 47 versus 37 percent; posttraumatic stress response: 30 versus 19 percent).

Masaharu Tsubokura, M.D., from the University of Tokyo, and colleagues examined radiation exposure in Minamisoma, located 23 km north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, from Sept. 26, 2011, through March 31, 2012. The researchers found that 3,286 individuals (34.6 percent) had detectable levels of cesium, including 235 children (16.4 percent). For children, the concentration ranged from 2.8 to 57.9 Bq per kg, while for adults the range was 2.3 to 196.5 Bq per kg, with a significant difference in exposure risk between adults and children.

"In this sample, exposure levels were low in most adults and children tested and much lower than those reported in studies years after the Chernobyl incident," Tsubokura and colleagues write.

Two authors provided voluntary mental health assistance to Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plant employees; one author is a Daini part-time occupational physician.

Full Text - Shigemura (subscription or payment may be required)
Full Text - Tsubokura (subscription or payment may be required)