Learning from Fukushima - One Year Anniversary

Published: 5 March 2012 12:27 CET

By Tadateru Konoe

From an early age, tiny Japanese children are taught to put cushions on their heads and burrow under their school desks in the event of an earthquake. Most coastal towns have clearly demarcated tsunami evacuation zones and early warnings saved thousands of lives last March when a tsunami swept through coastal towns in north-east Japan.

But what should people do in the event of a nuclear accident, what are the risks and what should be done if a worst-case scenario comes to pass? Triggered by the tsunami, the nuclear crisis in Fukushima must serve as a wake-up call, prompting greater action to prepare ourselves not just for natural disasters but for man-made ones too. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is committed to this goal and towards promoting more precise and comprehensive information for affected populations – especially in countries that have nuclear power plants.

People who have grown up near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, say the only safety instructions they can remember receiving in their youth was when a teacher told them to stand in the playground where they would be given pink pills to take.

This information vacuum and widespread ignorance is not simply confined to a question of preparedness. The Fukushima nuclear plant may now have reached a state of “cold shutdown.” But that doesn’t mean that ordinary people’s anxieties about radiation levels in food, water and the ground have abated.

A flurry of different scientific opinions are confusing and worrying people: from those who say pregnant women and children would be best advised to move away from many areas even well outside the government’s 20 km exclusion zone, to those who say that current radiation levels are no cause for undue concern.

What is clear is that in the absence of information people are fearful. Some mothers who have been moved in to temporary accommodation around Fukushima are even reluctant to allow their children to play outdoors.

What we need in face of all this is a new clarity and consensus on pressing for greater information, greater preparedness and greater sharing of experience.

We Japanese have long thought of ourselves as one of the world’s most disaster-prepared nations and we probably still are in many respects. But Japan is the only nation to have been subject both to an atomic bomb and a nuclear accident. The Fukushima nuclear accident has revealed how exposed we are.

I am proud to report that in the Red Cross Red Crescent, we recently took a decision to work on the issue of nuclear disaster preparedness more vigorously. The Japanese Red Cross Society has proposed to host an international conference in May where we hope to agree on a road map for developing future guidelines which will allow Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies to see the dangers more clearly and find a role for themselves in preparing for nuclear and other similar man-made disasters.

It is almost 26 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Red Cross is still playing a vital role in helping to care for the survivors. The consequences of the world’s largest nuclear accident continue to unfold as the thyroid cancer epidemic in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia is manifesting its effects in slow motion. Over the past 19 years, our programme has provided screening to more than three million people; the grim reality is that more than 200 cases of cancer are still diagnosed each year. Chernobyl is not only a forgotten disaster, but also an invisible one.

A year after our own triple disaster, in which more than 20,000 people lost their lives or are still missing, the people of Japan are showing remarkable stoicism and bravery in their recovery. We owe it to them - but not only to them - that the lessons of this tragedy do not go unlearned.

Mr. Tadateru Konoe is President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and President of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

For further information, please contact:

In Japan:

• Saya Matsumoto, officer - Japanese Red Cross PR office
Mobile: + 81 90 78202173  E-mail: s-matsumoto@jrc.or.jp

• Asuka Suzuki, officer - Japanese Red Cross PR office
Mobile: +81 90 78202173  E-Mail: as-suzuki@jrc.or.jp

In Beijing and Japan:

• Francis Markus, IFRC communications delegate for East Asia
Mobile: +86 139 10096892 E-mail: francis.markus@ifrc.org

In Kuala Lumpur:

• Patrick Fuller, communications manager, Asia Pacific, IFRC
Mobile : +60 122 308 451 E-mail : patrick.fuller@ifrc.org

In Geneva:

• Jessica Sallabank, senior media officer
Mobile : Mob.  +41 799481148  E-mail: jessica.sallabank@ifrc.org


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 191 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright