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WHO Reports On Risk From Radiation Exposure, Humanitarian Assistance Arrives In Japan Following Earthquake

The WHO on Saturday said the public health risk of a radiation leak resulting from earthquake damage at a nuclear reactor site in Japan “appeared to be ‘quite low’ but the WHO network of medical experts was ready to assist if requested,” Reuters reports.  

“At this moment it appears to be the case that the public health risk is probably quite low. We understand radiation that has escaped from the plant is very small in amount,” Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, said (Nebehay, 3/13). “At least as of now, what we’re looking at is rather more like Three Mile Island than Chernobyl,” said David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, the New York Times reports in an article examining the possible effects of the radiation leak. The radiation released from Chernobyl in 1986 “was about a million times the amount released from the partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, he said.” Chernobyl resulted in a thyroid cancer epidemic and an uptick in leukemia cases, according to Brenner. After Three Mile Island, “There is no evidence that anybody at all got sick, even decades later,” he said (Grady, 3/13).

Humanitarian Aid, Search And Rescue Teams Arrive in Japan

The U.S. has sent military and other types of aid to Japan to help with relief efforts after the quake, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which includes a cruiser, a destroyer and a combat support ship, was en route to the east coast of Honshu, expected to arrive Sunday. … The 7th Fleet flagship, the Blue Ridge, took on a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief kit Friday night in Singapore and departed Saturday morning. It is expected to arrive March 18,” according to the newspaper. USAID “dispatched two urban search-and-rescue teams … Each has about 72 personnel, dogs and 75 tons of rescue equipment” (Dilanian, 3/12). White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “As directed by the president, we have offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed as America will stand with Japan as they recover and rebuild,” according to Agence France-Presse (3/13).

Reuters reports on the global response to the Japanese earthquake. “Fire-fighters, sniffer dogs, clothing and food have been proposed in an outpouring of solidarity with Japan, with offers pouring in from nearly 70 countries, U.N. officials said,” the news service writes (Nebehay, 3/13). Meanwhile the Financial Times writes about the humanitarian situation on the ground. “The enormity of the humanitarian crisis facing Japan became apparent on Sunday evening as nearly 300,000 people left homeless and dazed by the earthquake and tsunami bedded down in makeshift emergency shelters in the Miyagi and Iwate prefectures,” the newspaper writes.

“The official death toll reached 2,000 as of Sunday night. But media reports quoted Japanese police officials and rescue workers saying the steadily rising body count and reports of huge numbers of people missing could push the final toll into the ‘tens of thousands,'” the Financial Times reports (Robinson/Nakamoto, 3/13).

In related news, Reuters looks at how the earthquake could affect Japan’s economy and how more developed countries are better equipped to respond to natural disasters. “The instinctive reaction when viewing the extensive damage and frantic efforts to secure damaged nuclear reactors is to assume economic havoc will follow. But researchers who have studied similar disasters in rich countries reach a reassuring conclusion: human resilience and resourcefulness, allied to an ability to draw down accumulated wealth, enable economies to rebound quickly from what seem at first to be unbearable inflictions,” the news service writes (Wheatley, 3/13).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.