Skip to main content

Home >  Reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake >  Health and safety >  Lessons for future generations (August 6, 2014)

Reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake

Lessons for future generations (August 6, 2014)

Rethy Kieth Chhem, MD., PhD.
Director, Division of Human Health,
International Atomic Energy Agency

Over the past few years, since the accident, I have had the great honour of visiting Fukushima prefecture; the Fukushima Medical University, Fukushima Daiichi and Daini Nuclear Power Plants, your displaced citizens at the Yuushinn Temporary Housing Complex after the accident, your elders at the Iitate Home, and your ill or injured at the Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital. I have been deeply moved by the courage and humanity shown by the doctors and other health care professionals - the ‘ unsung heroes ’ among the first responders to the disaster.

When all is working as it is supposed to, a doctor's work can be invisible. But as we have seen in the face of this overwhelming tragedy, when disaster strikes, we are called upon to respond in unimaginable ways and in very challenging circumstances.

Despite unknown and unclear risks present in the immediate environment, the medical professionals I met - regardless of skill level or background - came to help. With critical challenges in communication systems, technologies, transportation and basic infrastructure, these health care professionals became pioneers: assessing an unknown situation with little information trickling in, gathering whatever resources (physical and intellectual) that they could and managing uncharted territories in order to care for those most seriously affected by the disaster. Recall that the nuclear disaster followed a significant earthquake and tsunami that had just claimed close to 20,000 lives.

Long conversations with these courageous individuals have pushed those of us working from the side-lines to learn differently, to approach what and how we teach differently. These brave men and women have taught us that disciplinary knowledge is necessary but insufficient in a time of crisis. They have taught us that inter-professional collaboration in both education and practice can help us address life's complex problems together. The world of radiation medicine is indebted to these people for sharing their experiences so candidly. They have allowed us to identify gaps in our education and training in radiation medicine and public communication of Science and Technology that have inspired a reconceptualised approach to how we engage future health care professionals in this very important learning.

As one of the first responders told me,

As professionals, we play a very important role in the recovery. It is our mission as scientists. We have to play this important role for the public. We have to educate people and contribute to the recovery from nuclear disaster. This is our important job.

Galileo once said, If you could see the earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon. The response of the medical professionals to the Fukushima accident - certainly an experience ‘ as dark as night ’ has touched the world. Thank you for your humanity.

Page Top