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Fukushima Workers Experienced Psychological Distress Following Meltdown

Fukushima Workers Experienced Psychological Distress Following Meltdown

Researchers in Japan have revealed the psychological toll faced by workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the months following the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster.

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and led to what is considered the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Now, researchers reveal that many of these workers have experienced forms of psychological distress in the months following the disaster.

Jun Shigemura, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Defense Medical College, Saitama, Japan, and colleagues examined the psychological status of Fukushima workers 2 to 3 months after the disaster for symptoms of general psychological distress, including posttraumatic stress response (PTSR) and feeling nervous, hopeless, restless/fidgety, depressed and worthless in the last 30 days.

The study included all 1,053 full-time workers from the Daiichi plant, which experienced a meltdown, and 707 from the Daini plant, which was damaged but remained intact. Eighty-five percent of the eligible workers participated in the study. Compared with Daini workers, Daiichi workers were more often exposed to disaster-related stressors. The researchers found that general psychological distress and PTSR were common in nuclear plant workers 2 to 3 months after the disaster.

“Daiichi workers had significantly higher rates of psychological distress (47 percent vs. 37 percent) and PTSR (30 percent vs. 19 percent). For both groups, discrimination or slurs were associated with high psychological distress and high PTSR,” the researchers explained. “Other significant associations in both groups included tsunami evacuation and major property loss with psychological distress and pre-existing illness and major property loss with PTSR.”

Researchers also assessed sociodemographic characteristics and disaster-related experiences, including discrimination/slurs because the electric company that managed these plants was criticized for their disaster response and the workers have been targets of discrimination. They found that experiencing such discrimination or slurs was similar for both groups of workers – 14 percent for Daiichi employees and 11 percent for Daini workers.

The research was supported by Health and Labour Sciences Research Grants from the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare of Japan. The results of two studies appeared in the August 15 issue of The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).

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