An evaluation of early countermeasures to reduce the risk of internal radiation exposure after the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan

Health Policy Plan. 2016 May;31(4):425-33. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czv080. Epub 2015 Sep 11.


After a radiation-release incident, intake of radionuclides in the initial stage immediately following the incident may be the major contributor to total internal radiation exposure for individuals in affected areas. However, evaluation of early internal contamination risk is greatly lacking. This study assessed the relationship between initial stage evacuation/indoor sheltering and internal radiation contamination levels 4 months after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan and estimated potential pathways of the contamination. The study population comprised 525 participants in the internal radiation screening program at Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital, 23 km north of the Fukushima nuclear plant. The analysed dataset included the results of a screening performed in July 2011, 4 months after the incident, and of a questionnaire on early-incident response behaviours, such as sheltering indoors and evacuations, completed by participants. Association between such early countermeasures and internal contamination levels of cesium-134 were assessed using Tobit multiple regression analyses. Our study shows that individuals who evacuated to areas outside Fukushima Prefecture had similar contamination levels of cesium-134 to individuals who stayed in Fukushima (relative risk: 0.86; 95% confidence interval: 0.74-0.99). Time spent outdoors had no significant relationship with contamination levels. The effects of inhalation from radiological plumes released from the nuclear plant on total internal radiation contamination might be so low as to be undetectable by the whole-body counting unit used to examine participants. Given the apparent limited effectiveness of evacuation and indoor sheltering on internal contamination, the decision to implement such early responses to a radiation-release incident should be made by carefully balancing their potential benefits and health risks.

Keywords: Evacuation; Fukushima nuclear incident; indoor sheltering; inhalation; internal radiation exposure.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Fukushima Nuclear Accident*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / prevention & control
  • Inhalation Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiation Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Radiation Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult