East Japan earthquake and tsunami news archive

Countries discuss public health impact of Fukushima

On Tuesday 17 May, at a special technical briefing at the WHO’s annual governing body meeting in Geneva – the World Health Assembly – countries had the opportunity to share experiences of managing radiation emergencies and the challenges of such events. An update was also given on the Fukushima nuclear power plant by the Senior Vice Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, Mr Kouhei Otsuka. As part of her opening address to all delegates on Monday referring to the devastating earthquake and tsunami, the Director General, Dr Margaret Chan expressed her condolences: “We extend our deepest sympathies to the people of Japan for the tragic loss of so many lives, the disrupted livelihoods, and the large population displacements.”

Japan: Public health risks beyond evacuation zone currently still low

3 May 2011 -- On 22 April, new evacuation measures were implemented in light of public safety concerns. The area within the 20-km radius zone of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was officially declared a 'no-entry zone'. The Japanese government had previously evacuated individuals within this 20-km radius but this new measure imposes legal restrictions. In addition, two new evacuation zones - a 'planned evacuation zone' and an 'emergency evacuation preparedness zone' - were also declared.

13 April 2011 -- On 11 April, the Japanese authorities recategorized the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as a level 7 incident on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Public health risks beyond the evacuation zone around the plant are currently still low. The latest monitoring of radiation levels in air, drinking water and soil reveal declines in all three. Local authorities review restrictions on food sales on a weekly basis. The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) - a joint WHO/FAO initiative - provides regular updates to the 177 countries belonging to the network, one of which is Japan.

Additional information on food safety concerns

11 April 2011 -– Public concern about food and drinking-water contamination from radioactive emissions from the damaged reactors continues to be high. In this update to our FAQs, WHO has provided additional information on food safety concerns and the measures that Japan and other countries are taking to monitor and prevent contaminated food from being sold. WHO continues to evaluate available data and will revise information released on the topic as the event evolves.

Working together to support Japan and the global community

23 March 2011 -- FAO, IAEA and WHO are mobilizing their knowledge and expertise in support of the Japanese government's ongoing efforts to address food safety issues stemming from the events of 11 March. Information on the food safety dimension of events in Japan is contained in an updated set of questions and answers developed jointly by FAO, IAEA and WHO.

WHO says very little radiation risk to the residents of Pacific island countries

19 March 2011 -- The World Health Organization (WHO) has assured the Pacific island countries that there is very little risk of their being affected by any international spread of radioactive material from the stricken nuclear power plants in Japan.

At the moment, all evidence is that fall-out is limited to the area around the Fukushima Daiichi facility, and the distances involved meant it was unlikely that significant amounts of radiation would reach the Pacific island countries and territories, including those nearest to Japan.

WHO says it does not recommend any special measures and advised citizens of those countries to continue with their normal lives. WHO said it was monitoring the situation carefully.

Japan earthquake and tsunami toll now more than 16 000

18 March 2011 -- The toll of dead and missing in Japan's earthquake and tsunami disaster rose past the 16 000 mark as authorities continued their struggle to tame problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Official figures said 6406 people were confirmed dead, with more than 10 259 missing and 2409 injured. These figures are expected to rise as search and rescue operations continue. Some media were reporting more than 15 000 estimated deaths.

About 383 000 people have been evacuated. A small number of influenza-like illnesses and gastroenteritis cases have been reported in evacuation centres, where wintry conditions are making conditions miserable. Thousands of rescue workers, including police officers and self-defence forces personnel, are continuing to scour affected areas. So far, they are believed to have reached 26 000 survivors.

At the Daiichi plant, fire trucks resumed their efforts to inject water into reactor No. 3, while engineers struggled to reconnect external power to reactor No. 2, which was the least damaged in the 11 March earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

WHO warns against self-medicating against radiation

17 March 2011 -- The World Health Organization (WHO) today warned members of the general public against self-medicating with potassium iodide or with products containing iodide as a precaution against nuclear radiation. The advice followed reports of people in Japan and elsewhere using the substance in response to radiation leaks from nuclear plants in north-east Japan.

WHO said that potassium iodide should be taken only when there is a clear public health recommendation to do so. Indiscriminate use of the product can cause side-effects such as inflammation of the salivary glands, nausea, rashes, intestinal upset and possible severe allergic reactions, WHO said. Potassium iodide can also interact with other medications, especially certain types of cardio-vascular medications such as ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers and potassium-sparing diuretics.

In the setting of a nuclear power plant accident, potassium iodide pills are given to saturate the thyroid gland and prevent the uptake of radioactive iodine. When taken before or shortly after exposure, this step can reduce the risk of thyroid cancer in the long term.

Potassium iodide pills are not "radiation antidotes", WHO said. They do not protect against external radiation, or against any other radioactive substances.

Nearly half a million now evacuated from Japan's stricken zone

16 March 2011 -- Near-freezing temperatures, accompanied by snow, brought extra misery today to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power station crisis in north-east Japan.

Latest figures suggest that 416 119 people have been evacuated, with more than 16 150 remain to be evacuated. The death toll was put at about 5199, 2285 injured and some 9513 missing. The number of casualties is expected to increase as search and rescue operations reach cut-off areas. Some media reports put the number of dead at 15 000.

Reports said some hospitals were struggling with limited electrical power, a shortage of medicines and a lack of other resources.

Update on Fukushima evacuation areas

15 March 2011 -- In the current and rapidly evolving situation with the nuclear power plants in Japan, the actions proposed by the Government of Japan are in line with the existing recommendations based on public health expertise. The Government is asking people living within 20 km of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to evacuate and those between 20 km and 30 km are asked to stay indoors in unventilated rooms.

Japan counts the humanitarian cost of the earthquake

14 March 2011 -- The humanitarian cost of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the north-east coast of Japan on 11 March is becoming clearer, with the Japanese government putting the number of dead at 1627, with 1720 missing and 1962 injured.

But, with whole communities devastated by the tsunami, unofficial estimates say the final death toll will probably exceed 10 000. Of the 17 000 people living in the tourist town of Minamisanriku, 10 000 remain unaccounted for.

More than 1 million homes are now without water, with 3.2 million people running out of gas. About 2.5 million households, just over 4% of the total in Japan, have no electricity. More than 200 000 people living within 20 km of nuclear reactors damaged by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake were evacuated, with about 600 others about to be moved.

Meanwhile, an explosion occurred at 11:00 am on 14 March at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. The explosion was said to be caused by a build-up of hydrogen gas. The container housing the radioactive core was reported to be intact, and Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) reported no increase in radiation levels at the perimeter of Unit 3 following the explosion.

WHO puts global radiation experts on standby

13 March 2011 -- As part of its response to the nuclear power plant crisis in Japan, the World Health Organization (WHO) has alerted its global network of health experts specialized in nuclear-related disasters. The grouping, the Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN), is composed of more than 40 specialized institutions with expertise in radiation emergency medicine, public health interventions and long-term follow-up.

REMPAN's experts are now on standby but will not travel to Japan unless their assistance is requested by the Japanese authorities. A number of the REMPAN institutions are based in Japan, providing the country with a high level of domestic expertise.

WHO's Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO) in Manila has activated its Event Management Group, which has been monitoring the situation in close communication with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan and with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

An explosion occurred at Unit 1 at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear facility, but the Japanese authorities reported that the incident did not involve the reactor core and containment around the radioactive core remained intact. The authorities said the cooling system at Unit 3 in the Fukushima Daichi complex was also not fully functioning. Residents living within 20km of the Fukushima Daichi facility have been evacuated.