News / Asia

Japanese Doctors Treat the Ill, Hope for the Best

People walking towards a radiation screening center, Koriyama, Japan, March 17, 2011.
People walking towards a radiation screening center, Koriyama, Japan, March 17, 2011.

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Audio
  • Steve Herman's interview with Japanese Dr.Masae Kokubun

The Japanese military worked furiously on Thursday to cool dangerouly overheated fuel rods at the severely damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, stepping up their efforts to avert a nuclear disaster.

Efforts are also underway to restore electricity to the plant that was crippled by last week's 9.0 earthquake and huge tsunami. On Friday, Japan says it will try one last time to douse the reactors with water.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says the situation remains serious.

But on Wednesday, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko sounded a more serious alarm when he told the U.S. Congress that all the cooling water may have drained from the pool at one of the damaged Fukushima reactors and caused the release of high levels of radiation.

More than 200,000 people have evacuated their homes in Fukushima Prefecture. And thousands are being tested for radiation every day in the area. Many are showing higher than normal levels of radiation, but officials say a very small number of them need medical attention.

Our correspondent Steve Herman is in Koriyama, Japan, where many of the evacuees are staying. He spoke with Dr. Masae Kokubun, who is among the medical professionals treating the sick in Koriyama.

What is the government telling the doctors here?

"The government says the radiation level here in Koriyama now is very safe and the government check the radiation level every one hour. And the level here in Koriyama or Fukushima or the middle part of Fukushima Prefecture - it's about 60 kilometers or 70 kilometers away from the nucelar plant - and they all have the safe level of the radiation. No need to worry about health or some diseases."

Listen to the entire interview with Dr. Masae Kokubun

There's 26 centers in Fukushima and maybe more than 10,000 people were checked and, according to the reports, we have only six people were found to have some radiation contamination. Does this sound right to you based on what you've heard?

"This is the same information we [have gotten]. And we doctors say now it's safe to live in Koriyama or Fukushima, the middle part of Fukushima Prefecture, and please be [calm] and not in a panic."

The situation now is that they are trying to get things under control at the reactor number 3, reactor number 4 at Fukushima 1. If those spent fuel rods go critical and high levels of radiation are released into the air, what will you and others doctor do here or have to do? Has there been any information from the government?


"I am afraid we doctors here have no information from the government because everyone had no experience about these kinds of accident and many medical staffs or doctors are worrying about ourselves and our patients and our cities. But the one thing we can do is to get the information from the government or from the prefecture level. One thing we can do is to believe it."

But if there is large potential radiation exposure, does this city or have some sort of disaster plan for that kind of event? Have you done some sort of drills or training for that type of event?

"Unfortunately, we doctors do not have enough experience [with] patients who have radiation diseases, but we know about anti-radioactive drugs, but not at the hospital level. Maybe at the city government level, and if the level is [higher] to the health injury level, the city government says they will give to every citizens the drugs [that are needed]."

Did you ever anticipate that you would be in this particular situation?

"For me, this is the first experience. And we are trying our best to get rid of our worries about the patients or to get rid of the worry of the citizens. Even the nurses and the staff in the hospital are nervous, but they come to the hospital and come to work for the sick people. So we are now trying our best."

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