Nuclear disaster radiation affects mental health worse than physical health: study

Radiation from modern nuclear accidents causes more mental distress than physical harm, according to the authors of a series of papers in The Lancet.

While physical dangers were widely appreciated the mental effects were bigger.

According to Dr Koichi Tanigawa of Fukushima Medical University in Japan, who refers to the most recent disaster at Fukushima,

"Although the radiation dose to the public from Fukushima was relatively low, and no discernible physical health effects are expected, psychological and social problems, largely stemming from the differences in risk perceptions, have had a devastating impact on people's lives."

There are 437 nuclear power plants in operation around the world, but nuclear accident was uncommon and the most recent disaster was at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011.

Before that there had been four other severe nuclear accidents (rated as level 5 or higher rated as  "an accident with wider consequences") - Kyshtym in Russia in 1957, Windscale Piles in the UK also in that year, Three Mile Island in the US in 1979 and Chernobyl in Russia in 1986.

The UN Chernobyl Forum, in 2006, found that the accident's most serious public health issue was the adverse effects on mental health.

It added poor communication about the health risks associated with radiation levels made the problem worse.

Though the failure rate was pretty low, the only problem was, when it came to nuclear, any failure was potentially devastating. And even though those incidents did not result in widespread health problems, with the exception of Chernobyl, the mental stress of such events could be incredible on the general population.

Poor communication about what health risks were involved only made the problem worse, as people did not know what to expect and had no idea what radiation levels might be or what effect they might have.

According to the study, even 20 years after an accident, rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder remained shockingly high.