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Keywords:

  • radiation emergency;
  • Fukushima;
  • nuclear disaster

Abstract

A huge earthquake struck the northeast coast of the main island of Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a tsunami with 14–15 meter-high waves hitting the area. The earthquake was followed by numerous sustained aftershocks. The earthquake affected the nuclear power plant (NPP) in Fukushima prefecture, resulting in large amounts of radioactive materials being released into the environment. The major nuclides released on land were 131I, 134Cs, and 137Cs. Therefore, almost 170 000 people had to be evacuated or stay indoors. Besides the NPP and the telecommunications system, the earthquake also affected infrastructures such as the supplies of water and electricity as well as the radiation monitoring system. The local hospital system was dysfunctional; hospitals designated as radiation-emergency facilities were not able to function because of damage from the earthquake and tsunami, and some of them were located within a 20 km radius of the NPP, the designated evacuation zone. Local fire department personnel were also asked to evacuate. Furthermore, the affected hospitals had not established their evacuation plans at that time. We have learned from this “combined disaster” that the potential for damage to lifelines as well as the monitoring systems for radiation in case of an earthquake requires our intense focus and vigilance, and that hospitals need comprehensive plans for evacuation, including patients requiring life support equipment during and after a nuclear disaster. There is an urgent need for a “combined disaster” strategy, and this should be emphasized in current disaster planning and response.