An Unprecedented Time

An Unprecedented Time at the Tokyo American Club: Lecture on Radiation

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Stepping into the Tokyo American Club (TAC)  is like stepping into the Ritz Carlton.  I went to hear a lecture sponsored by the American Embassy on the radiation situation in Fukushima, and it’s effect on Tokyo.  As I waited in the second floor basement of the TAC there were probably over 200 people in attendance at the 1 p.m. lecture.

There were three large projection screens, and I having arrived just before the start took my seat in the second row in the middle of the auditorium.  There were people of all sorts filling up the seats.  Men dressed in fine business suits, mothers with infants in tow, and people like myself dressed in jeans and simple olive hoody.

The air was filled with a quiet cacophony of English that I hadn’t heard since leaving the sunshine state of Florida.  As the first speaker took the podium all eyes focused ahead and listened to what Janet from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had to say.  She introduced the panel and gave a very brief power point presentation that she made a joke saying, “They never let us leave without one.”    She stressed that the situation in Japan in unprecedented and that the Japanese are the first society to have to face a triple disaster.

The first speaker was Dr. Norman Coleman of the National Cancer Institute.  I will write a brief summary of what he said.  First, that radiation is all around us.  There are three types of radiation: Alpha (which can be blocked by a sheet of paper), Beta (which can be blocked by clothing), and Gamma (which takes lead, or several feet of concrete).  He continued that cells have a built in mechanism for dealing with radiation and that cells communicate with each other when they are bombarded with radiation. Also talked briefly about how Potassium Iodine can block harmful radiation from collecting in a persons thyroid.

The next speaker was Captain Mike Noska of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  He talked first about background radiation that most humans experience  about 6 mSvs (600 micro rems) of radiation a year.  Different locations in the world have various levels of background radiation.  His main point was stressing by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards the Japanese tap water is safe to drink for all.

The last speaker was Dr. Steven L. Simon a specialist in Radiation therapy and it’s effect on humans.  He stressed that frequency of exposure to risk was a large determiner of outcome.  He started off his lecture talking about other risky behavior, such as driving a car, mountain climbing, and smoking.  He said that there is no line in the sand for a level that becomes a guarantee that someone will get cancer from exposure.

He said that in this room 25% of us would get cancer without any exposure to radiation.  In an odd twist of fate the researchers who have studied radiation have learned the most about it from the after effects of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  He continued to say that in the studies of those that developed cancer after Atomic bomb they were only an additional 800 cases above the baseline 25%.  The amount of radiation that is being experienced in Tokyo at this point (< 0.1 mSv) in time would increase the baseline rate of 25% cancer by 0.0008% which he stated as a scientist is statistically insignificant.  He, as a scientist could not distinguish the increase from the baseline.  In the Q&A segment a gentleman asked him what amount of radiation would it take to increase the 0.0008 to 1%.  After jotting down some computations on his notes he answered about 2000 times the levels that Tokyo is experiencing today.

After Dr. Simon finished the floor was opened for about 1 hour of Questions and Answers.  I will put some of the ones that impressed me the most in note form.

As far as a worst case scenario, which they were rather reluctant to discuss they said the farther away from the initial incident the less likely for a worst case happening.  Dr. Coleman did make a point of stressing that this is an unique event and that the models are changing because of the data being collected.  He said that you cannot model your way out of this situation, but you have to measure your way out.

A young mother asked about some things people could do to make things worse.  He did say in some circumstances evacuating could be more dangerous than staying put.  The mother said that the press and Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) were saying that children should were polarized leaded sunglasses and rain ponchos to keep the radiation off the children.  Captain Noska said that they would have no needed affect, and the leaded sunglasses are only used for very special applications in the nuclear sciences.

Another question asked was there any difference between background radiation and radiation from the power plant. They clearly stated that “radiation is RADIATION”  The body knows no difference between them.

One lady said she lived through the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and asked to compare the Fukushima one to Three Mile Island.  They said they are rather similar and that the studies that have been conducted after the incident found little to no increase of cancer.

Radioactive Iodine and Radioactive Cesium attach themselves to dust, and water in the atmosphere and that is how they are spread, and or ingested.

Someone asked could a Brita Water Filter remove the radiation from the tap water.  The answer was yes it could help in removing some of the radioactive particles from the water.

One husband asked a question from his 7 month pregnant wife if she should leave Kanto (Tokyo) and head for Kansai (Western Honshu) to escape the radiation.  Dr. Simon’s reply was that the anxiety of separation could be much worse  than the actual exposure to radiation.

Now my thoughts.

I was rather impressed with the lectures, and in the end I feel good that I took the time to attend.  The overall feeling that I walked away from the lectures are to be prepared for more earthquakes, but at this point in time the radiation being found in Tokyo is so negligible that it should not worry about it.  That does not mean to ignore the situation, but to be kept up to date on changes and make informed decisions on what to do.

We as human beings take risks everyday.  There are often risks that we take that we have no control over the situation.  This is unfortunately one of those situations.  I for one plan on staying put.  I will keep up to date on all the information, and if God forbid things get worse, I will make changes.  We are all under a lot of stress whether it is acknowledged or not.  Japan and its people have not have the time to mourn.

We need to all breathe deeply and be thankful that we are alive.  We need to reach out to those in the northern areas that are suffering from the earthquake, tsunami and the radiation in the evacuation area.

So in conclusion after listening to the lecture and mulling it over on the train ride home.  The key things are:  Japan is removing the dangerous food from the market place, the tap water in Tokyo is safe and I probably learned more about the situation as it effects us in Tokyo from the two hours of discussion than from the countless hours of TV and internet news.

for good up to date information

health information from the US Tokyo Embassy

Stay informed.

Don’t Panic

feel free to comment or ask me any questions.  I will do my best to answer.

An Unprecedented Time at the Tokyo American Club

Descending into the Tokyo American Club

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