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Reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake

Dear residents of the Fukushima Prefecture (August 9, 2013)

Mikhail Balonov, Professor
Former Member of the International Commission of Radiological Protection (2001-2013)
Consultant to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation

I am Professor Mikhail Balonov, Russian expert in radiation protection of the public with more than forty years of experience. In particular, I participated in mitigation of the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl accident since the very first days. In my previous letter in October 2011, I compared radiation conditions in areas of the Fukushima prefecture mostly affected from Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) accident in March 2011 with those in the Bryansk region of Russia substantially affected in 1986 following the Chernobyl accident. This comparison reflected in a conclusion that future radiation-induced health effects in the population of the Fukushima prefecture are unlikely.

Since 2011, I participated in two international projects focused on the assessment of health effects of the FDNPP accident organized by two respected bodies, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Both of them came to similar conclusions that future radiation-induced health effects in the population of the Fukushima prefecture were unlikely.

However, those scientific conclusions should not prevent further remediation of areas with substantial radionuclide deposition, both evacuated in 2011 and currently inhabited. Furthermore, settlement decontamination prior to people return from evacuation is now the real priority issue.

Last week I visited Fukushima prefecture again. I have seen how the decontamination teams operated in some affected districts. By means of special decontamination equipment they washed asphalt and concrete surfaces, removed topsoil around public buildings (schools, kindergarten, etc.) and dwelling houses, streets and squares. Those actions reduce radiation levels and allow people to return to normal way of life.

However, based on the Chernobyl experience one should be prepared that in those areas elevated radionuclide levels in the forest 'wild foods' (berries, mushrooms, game, etc) will keep for years or even decades.

Unfortunately, the evacuated people have not returned to their homes yet. While in most of the evacuated settlements radionuclide deposition was higher than in the currently inhabited ones, the decontamination of those settlements is very important. The remediation process will inevitably include the restoration of general life infrastructure that degraded during the years of human absence. According to our dose assessment, once the remediation is completed the returned people will not be exposed to substantial radiation risk any more.

Thus, radiation gradually departs and life in the affected areas of Japan will revert to normality. I am sure that my colleagues, Japanese radiation protection experts, will assist you in this long term process. I wish the evacuated residents of many Fukushima settlements happy return to their homes and I remain prepared to share similar Chernobyl experience.

July 2013, St. Petersburg, Russia

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