Third International Expert Symposium in Fukushima: Beyond Radiation and Health Risks—Toward Resilience and Recovery

Fukushima, Japan

I would like to start by conveying my sincere appreciation to each and every participant for attending this two-day symposium. And to those of you who have traveled long distances from overseas and different parts of Japan, let me extend a very warm welcome back to Fukushima!

I would like to also express my deepest respect to the faculty and staff of Fukushima Medical University for their support in organizing this symposium.

This third symposium is indeed a diverse gathering of individuals. Representing international and intergovernmental organizations, research institutions, medical hospitals, as well as local public health and medical services, we have all gathered here for the common purpose of looking beyond radiation and health risks toward Fukushima’s resilience and recovery.

On March 11, 2011 an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented magnitude hit the northeastern region of Japan. This triggered the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which displaced more than 150,000 people. There was serious public concern regarding the health risks from the radioactive material that was released into the atmosphere. Fear-provoking information via the media and Internet fueled confusion and panic.

During that crisis, The Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation called on the assistance of experts from around the world, some of whom we had met while engaged in humanitarian aid efforts in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident. Despite the short notice, more than 40 leading experts in radiation and health-related fields in Japan and around the world responded to our call.

Joining hands with Fukushima Medical University, we were able to successfully hold the first international expert symposium here in Fukushima, just six months after the accident. Experts came together, reviewed the potential health effects of radiation based on scientific evidence, and submitted their conclusions and recommendations to the Japanese government. The documents were also made available to the public online in Japanese and English.  

Since the first symposium, we have witnessed diverse actions and contributions by the local and global communities; Fukushima Medical University, which hosted the second expert symposium in 2013, has been conducting the Fukushima Health Management Survey to promote the health of Fukushima residents; and the Fukushima Prefectural Government has been providing periodic reports on the survey to the public.

Furthermore, various international organizations and experts in the fields of radiation and health have been researching and analyzing the situation in Fukushima. Some of these organizations have published reports on the current condition of Fukushima, and there are groups that have been organizing forums for dialogue among local people as a way to identify the problems and challenges with regard to revitalizing communities.

In light of these various initiatives, we felt that now was the ideal time to hold a symposium where concerned experts could come together. What sets this symposium apart is the special session where local residents, medical practitioners, and health workers from communities affected by the 2011 disaster will join a panel of experts to share their personal experiences and the current situations faced by the communities they serve. This kind of input will help us better understand the psychological effects that the nuclear accident has had on local residents.

What we hope to accomplish in this third symposium is for domestic and overseas experts to share various information and examine and discuss the current state of Fukushima from multiple angles; and through this process, identify measures that can strengthen the resilience and recovery of Fukushima. The summary of the symposium and the conclusions and recommendations will be compiled in both Japanese and English to be submitted to the Japanese Government and also made available online to be widely accessed by people in Japan and around the world.

I look forward to two days of very fruitful and lively discussion at the symposium. With our thoughts focused on the people of Fukushima, I hope that this symposium will enable us to deepen our understanding of the circumstances they face and trigger even more action on everyone’s part to assist Fukushima on its path toward resilience and recovery.