One evening in June 2011, Masaharu Tsubokura went to bed and found he couldn’t close his left eye. His face was paralyzed, and for a few weeks the doctor who had spent months counseling residents displaced by a massive nuclear disaster was himself a patient. The paralysis was temporary. But the stress that caused it has been a constant in Tsubokura’s life since he volunteered in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, days after the triple catastrophe that rocked it on 11 March 2011: a magnitude 9 earthquake, a tsunami that rose up to 40 meters, and multiple meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. What was meant to be a short volunteer stint giving health checks to evacuees became a career that has lasted 10 years and counting. In the months after the disaster, Tsubokura moved from routine medicine to measuring radiation exposure. He became adept at explaining radiation basics and risks to residents and officials. “He spent a huge amount of time in town hall meetings, lectures, and dialogues with local people, which made him respected and trusted,” says Kenji Shibuya, a global health scholar at King’s College London who collaborated with him. And Tsubokura soon reached a controversial conclusion: The evacuation had a far bigger impact on health than the radiation. “No one died of radiation,” he says, whereas uprooting tens of thousands of people caused clear social and health problems.
Science 4th March 2021 read more »