Date Published: March 13, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Hiroko Hori, Makiko Orita, Yasuyuki Taira, Takashi Kudo, Noboru Takamura, Gayle E. Woloschak.
In response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, the Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan issued the new “Nuclear Emergency Response Guideline.” However, there is a perception that scientific information about the health impact of radiation exposure has not been adequately shared among the local government staffs, including schoolteachers. We contacted schoolteachers at all 120 schools within the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone of the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, Kagoshima prefecture, in 2017. We invited them to take part in a written survey to clarify their concerns and risk perceptions regarding the effects of radiation exposure on health. Five hundred and fifty schoolteachers’ replies were included in the analysis. The results revealed that 355 schoolteachers had concerns about the health effects of radiation exposure due to working within the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone. A logistic regression analysis revealed that sex (OR = 2.26, 95% CI: 1.49–3.45, p < 0.001), age (OR = 3.39, 95% CI: 2.10–5.47, p < 0.001), reluctance to undergo a radiological examination at a hospital (OR = 1.91, 95% CI: 1.23–2.88, p = 0.004), place of work (OR = 2.18, 95% CI: 1.46–3.27, p < 0.001), and anxiety about having to address questions about radiation from students (OR = 4.66, 95% CI: 2.83–7.67, p < 0.001) were independently associated with schoolteachers’ concerns about the health effects of radiation exposure due to working in the area around the nuclear power plant. Therefore, it is important to respond to these concerns in order to establish a meaningful education program for school children on radiation and its health effects.
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake led to major problems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP). A 14-m tsunami triggered by this earthquake disabled all AC power to Units 1, 2, and 3 of the power plant and carried off fuel tanks for emergency diesel generators. Despite many efforts, cooling systems did not work, and hydrogen explosions damaged the facilities, releasing a large amount of radioactive material into the environment. Although almost 11,000 residents were evacuated from two cities, seven towns, and three villages around the plant during the initial phase of the accident, at present, ten of these have already totally or partially lifted their evacuation orders after exhaustive decontamination efforts and the re-establishment of infrastructure. However, many residents still hesitate to return to their hometowns for various reasons, including employment mismatches, education for their children, and anxiety regarding the health effects of radiation exposure [1, 2]. Although many surveys have shown that the exposure doses of residents are very limited due to the prompt evacuation and food regulation policy, there is a gap between residents’ risk perceptions and their actual exposure doses in Fukushima [1, 3].
Among the 550 study participants, 355 (64.5%) were concerned about the health effects of radiation exposure due to living within the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone of the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (“concern (+) group”), whereas 195 (35.5%) schoolteachers were not concerned about this (“concern (−) group”) (S1 Table). Furthermore, 435 schoolteachers (79%) responded that they were anxious about having to address their students’ questions about radiation. In addition, 523 schoolteachers (95%) stated that they had difficulty conducting classes on radiation.
In this study, we identified the concerns of schoolteachers regarding the health effects of radiation exposure due to working in the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone around the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant. The findings revealed that 64.5% of the teachers expressed these concerns and that sex, age, reluctance to undergo a radiological examination at a hospital, place of work, and anxiety about having to address their students’ questions about radiation were independently associated with the schoolteachers’ concerns regarding the health effects of radiation exposure due to working within the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone. In a previous study conducted in 2013, we administered a survey to gauge risk perception among the clinical nurses working at Fukushima Medical University Hospital, Fukushima Prefecture; the survey results showed that 71.5% of the nurses expressed anxiety about radiation exposure . The Japanese government, research institutes, [2, 20–22] and international authorities, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) , the World Health Organization (WHO) , and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) , reported that there would be no detectable direct health effects of radiation exposure on the general public following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Despite this, residents of Japan—even those in professional occupations, such as schoolteachers—continue to have concerns about the radiological effects. These concerns have probably stemmed from the lack of knowledge about radiation exposure and its health effects, which even exists among educated, individuals in professional occupations.