Humanitarian Health Action

FAQs: Japan nuclear concerns

September 2011

Current risk

What is the current risk of radiation-related health problems in Japan for those residing near the reactor in comparison to those in other parts of Japan?

  • During the early phase of the nuclear emergency radiation-related health were dependant on exposure, which is turn were due to several things, including: the amount and type of radiation released from the reactor; weather conditions, such as wind and rain; a person’s proximity to the plant; and the amount of time spent in irradiated areas.
  • The Government of Japan’s early actions in response to events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were in line with the existing recommendations for radiation exposure. The Government has evacuated individuals who were living within a 20-kilometre radius around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Those living between 20 km and 30 km from the plant were asked to evacuate voluntarily. In general, people living farther away of the site of the event are at lower risk than those who live nearby.
  • In light of evolving new information on levels of environmental radioactivity in the 20-30 km zone and some surrounding areas beyond the 30km zone, the Government of Japan established new planned evacuation zones from which residents were relocated to temporary housing based on the estimated cumulative doses they may receive in the 1 year following the accident.
  • In addition, an emergency evacuation preparedness zone was also identified in which residents were asked to prepare their affairs in case they were asked to evacuate. These zones also follow administrative boundaries and extend beyond the 30 km radius.

Is there a risk of radioactive exposure from food contamination?

  • Yes, there is a risk of exposure as a result of contamination in food.
  • However, contaminated food would have to be consumed over prolonged periods to represent a risk to human health.
  • The radioactive iodine and caesium in concentrations above the Japanese regulatory limits have been detected in some food commodities as a result of food monitoring
  • Japanese authorities have advised residents to avoid these food and have implemented measures to prevent their sale and distribution.

Are there health risks to people living outside of Japan from radiation emitted into the atmosphere from damaged Japanese nuclear power plants?

Thus far, there are no health risks to people living in other countries from radioactive material released into the atmosphere from the Japanese nuclear power plants. Radiation levels measured to date in other countries are far below the level of background radiation that most people are exposed to in every day circumstances.

Radiation levels have been monitored by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which operates 63 surveillance stations around the world.