Science in Society Archive

WHO Report on Fukushima a Travesty

The World Health Organisation has failed in its obligation to protect the public and guilty of the crime of non-assistance Susie Greaves

World Health Organisation subservient to nuclear lobby

The World Health Report (May 2012) entitled “Preliminary dose estimation from the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami” [1] is a public relations exercise to reassure the world that WHO is fulfilling its role in the area of radiation and health. Following the preliminary dose estimation, WHO will complete a health risk assessment to “support the identification of needs and priorities for public health action.” But this report and the one to follow cannot help those people in Japan who should have been evacuated much sooner and who will certainly suffer health consequences of varying degrees from their exposure to radiation since March 2011.

This report bears all the hallmarks of WHO’s subservience to the IAEA. It was not written by WHO personnel but by an International Expert Panel convened by the WHO. A cursory glance at the list of contributors shows that all have ties to the nuclear industry, whether directly, as members of the IAEA or UNSCEAR, or as members of organisations like the UK Health Protection Agency (previously the National Radiological Protection Board). WHO has no department or expert in radiation and health [2]. It is entirely dependent on the IAEA for its information on the subject after signing the 1959 agreement WHA 12/40 between the two organisations [3].  

Unreliable or absent data

The report uses data supplied by the Japanese government, and makes no reference to alternative sources of information, for instance from independent Japanese citizen organisations [4], CRIIRAD (France) [5], Fairewinds (USA) [6] or Greenpeace international [7]. To rely only on Japanese government figures does a disservice to the people of Japan, many of whom no longer trust their own politicians. Independent Japanese scientists have criticised the methodology used by the Japanese government to measure the radioactive fallout from Fukushima. For example, Prof. Matsui Eisuke, a specialist in respiratory diseases and low dose radiation, and director of the Medical Institute of Environment at Gifu, says that [8] “The government and its professional advisors have relied mainly on gamma rays which are easy to detect. But, in terms of internal radiation exposure, beta and alpha rays have a far more serious effect than gamma rays. The government and TEPCO hardly measure such isotopes as beta emitting strontium 90 or alpha emitting plutonium239. They have been deliberately ignoring the characteristics of internal exposure.”

We are told in the WHO report that no assessment can be made of the radiation received by people living within 20 km of the reactor because “precise data” were not available. Similarly we are told that no assessment can be made of the dose received by workers at the nuclear power plant because this requires a different “dosimetric approach”. Thus, two critical groups that have been exposed to very high levels of radiation are dismissed on page 15 of the report and never mentioned again.

As regards estimates of the radiation dose in the rest of the world (page 28), we are told no measurements were available. Yet the 60 measuring stations worldwide belonging to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation [9] had been collecting crucial data, and could tell us exactly how much radiation was released on any day in many parts of the world since March 11th 2011. But though these stations are paid for by the people of the world, the measurements are only made available to pre-selected official organisations in each country and of course to WHO!  Indeed, independent scientists have estimated even from a limited set of such data made available to them that the actual releases of radioactivity from the Fukushima accident has been at least 15 times as great as the official figures [10] (Fukushima Fallout Rivals Chernobyl, SiS 55)

Interestingly, in a meeting with the group IndependentWHO on 4 May 2011, Dr Chan, Director-General of the WHO confirmed that she receives these reports from the CTBTO and stated that she does not disseminate the information to the public because, in her view, there is no public health threat [11]. Yet earlier in the meeting, Chan admitted that she personally has no competence in radiation science and furthermore, there is no longer a department of radiation and health in WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Ten to 50 times annual dose limit as defined by International Commission on Radiological Protection

The report is padded out with an unnecessary amount of material justifying its methodology, so that we have to read as far as Page 63 before we are given some concrete figures about the actual radiation dose to which people have been exposed. It states that [1]: “In Fukushima prefecture, the estimated effective doses are within a dose band of 1−10 mSv, except in two of the example locations where the effective doses are estimated to be within a dose band of 10–50 mSv…”.

These momentous figures are slipped into the text without any comment or interpretation by WHO. Two things should be borne in mind. First, the internationally accepted dose limit for members of the public is 1 mSv per year [12], so the 2 million inhabitants of Fukushima province have received up to ten times this limit, and the inhabitants of the worst affected areas (as an example the 75,000 people in Futaba county, and the 22,000 people in Namie county) have received between 10 and 50 times this limit.

As the WHO report makes no comment about the health implications of exposure to these amounts of radiation, we the public need to interpret the data ourselves, using other studies as a comparison. The largest study undertaken of nuclear industry workers in 2007, found increased cancer mortality among nuclear workers exposed to an average of 2 mSv/year, [13] and the latest BEIR report (Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation) from the United States Academy of Sciences indicates that children and especially girls are many times more vulnerable to the same radiation dose as adults [14].

The crime of non-assistance

The objective of the World Health Organisation as stated in Article 1 of its Constitution, is “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health “ and in Article 2, it states that it should “…assist in developing an informed public opinion among all peoples on matters of health” [15] .WHO ignores its own Constitution and is guilty of the crime of non-assistance, when it fails to point out that these levels of radiation are many times higher than accepted limits and leaves the task of interpreting these levels to the lay reader.

A full 14 months after the accident at Fukushima and WHO boasts that its report “provides timely and authoritative information” about the estimated radiation dose. It promises more detailed studies later and an assessment of the health impacts, but the tens of thousands of people, living in dangerously contaminated areas of Japan, cannot wait that long.

Article first published 09/07/12

Notes & References

  1. Preliminary dose estimation from the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, World Health Organisation, May 2012.
  2. “On Tuesday, March 15, Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment Department, acknowledged that the WHO had no experts on site. She said she was ready to respond to every request from Tokyo, adding that “this request should be made through the IAEA.” Agathe Duparc. Le Monde, 19.03.11    
  3. IndependentWHO. The Agreement WHA 12-40 between WHO and IAEA.
  4. Statement by Scientists and Engineers Concerning Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (no.3). 2011, Citizen`s Nuclear Information Center,
  5. Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendantes sur la Radioactivité. Consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi Accident in Japan : A substantial and long-lasting contamination. CRIIRAD, 2011.
  6. Fukushima Daiichi: The Truth and the Future, Fairewinds Energy Education, 2012  
  7. Lessons from Fukushima, Greenpeace, 28 February, 2012,
  8. Eisuke M.  Activities of Citizens and Scientists Concerned about Low Dose Internal Radiation Exposures in Japan. 201,
  9. Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation. Verification Regime.
  10. Ho MW. Fukushima fallout rivals Chernobyl. Science in Society 55
  11. Chronologie des échanges avec l’OMS (in French). IndependentWHO,  6 July 2011,  
  12. Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, International Commission on Radiological Protection. 2005,
  13. Fairewinds Energy Education. Cancer Risk To Young Children Near Fukushima Daiichi Underestimated. 2012.
  14. Using the BEIR risk models, girls are almost twice as vulnerable as same-aged boys, and a 5-year-old girl is 5 times and an infant female 7 times more vulnerable than a 30-year-old man. United States National Academy of Sciences. Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2. 2006. (page 311)
  15. The Constitution of the World Health Organisation. World Health Organisation, 2006,

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George Wade Comment left 10th July 2012 03:03:01
A good, useful summary of the situation. I do not see much mention of counter measures. Apple pectin for eliminating some dangerous metals is in the IndependentWHO 'The Forum on radioprotection in Geneva : pictures and recordings 20 - JUNE - 2012' “See the abstracts of presentations”. Other useful concepts, such as chelation therapy, colloidal zeolite absorption of heaviest metals first, blue-green algae aiding elimination of metals are not much discussed. Further: when an animal is supported nutritionally error checking of DNA during mitosis may well minimise damage. DNA replication and error checking routines What is the best way to manage this knowledge; just to send further comments ?