The Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011

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A huge earthquake struck the northeast coast of the main island of Japan on 11 March 2011, triggering a tsunami with more than 10‐m-high waves hitting the area. The earthquake was followed by numerous sustained aftershocks. The earthquake and aftershocks left almost 16,000 people dead and more than 2,800 missing (as of 11 March 2014). The earthquake affected the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), causing serious damage to the NPP and resulting in large amounts of radioactive materials being released into not only controlled areas but also the environment. Damage was caused to the cooling systems of the NPP, although they automatically shut down after the earthquake. The trouble with the cooling systems led to hydrogen explosions and core meltdown. The major nuclides released on land were 131I, 134Cs, and 137Cs. The release of these radioactive materials resulted in contamination of first responders and workers and also a high ambient dose of radiation around the NPP. The local hospital system, including that for radiation emergency medicine, was dysfunctional. Hospitals that had been designated as radiation emergency facilities were not able to function because the earthquake and tsunami had caused damage to their facilities; some of these were located within a 20-km radius of the NPP and in the evacuation areas. Local fire department personnel were also ordered to evacuate. Fukushima prefecture changed the screening level required for decontamination from 13,000 to 100,000 cpm, with decontamination by wiping being performed for over 13,000 cpm. However, as hospitals and fire departments had to abide by lower levels than that of the prefecture for receiving or transporting contaminated patients, these personnel could not accept or transport contaminated people from the NPPs. In addition, hospitals not designated as radiation emergency facilities would not receive patients from the NPPs because of concerns about the health effects of radiation. From this disaster, it was learned that basic knowledge of radiation and its effects is extremely important for health care providers.

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