• Message from President of the JRCS

Message from President of the JRCS

* The below is the message by Tadateru Konoe, the then President, Japanese Red Cross Society at the time of starting up the Red Cross Nuclear Disaster Resource Center, Digital Archives in October 2013.

Japan is the only country in history that has had to cope with two types of severe and painful nuclear disasters, namely the atomic bombing and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident. Based on these bitter experiences, our country can argue convincingly that, from the point of view of the affected people, these two disasters have the humanitarian consequences in common. Some 68 years ago, the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) played an important role in relief for those affected by the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Building on such experiences, JRCS established an atomic bomb survivors’ hospital in each of both cities for the treatment of diseases caused by atomic bomb radiation and they remain operational today. The findings and the knowledge gained and accumulated through such experiences contributed to our ability to engage with the relief operation following the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident.

Before the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the safety myth surrounding nuclear power plants had been widely believed in Japan, therefore the Japanese public in general and those living near by the nuclear power plants had not been fully informed of the possible consequences and the way to respond in case of an accident. By the same token, JRCS had not been equipped with either the protective gear or the safety guidelines for a nuclear disaster at the time when the accident struck Fukushima. Consequently, its relief activity in Fukushima had to be on a limited scale in the very early phase of emergency.
Thereafter, thanks to the swift activation of emergency measures, JRCS was able to mobilise relief teams not only from Fukushima Red Cross Hospital that was located at approximately 60 km from the doomed nuclear power plant but also from other Red Cross hospitals nationwide to provide relief and psychological care for the evacuees in need. JRCS is continuing such activities as of today to support the affected people who have been forced to evacuate from where they used to live.
In order to guarantee the safety of our own relief team members engaged in the relief activities in Fukushima under the risk of potential radiation exposure, JRCS advocated for the development of radiation protection guidelines, gave briefings to all the team members who were scheduled to work in Fukushima Prefecture, ensured that each team member was equipped with a personal dosimeter to measure and record the radiation dose in the course of their activity. From these experiences, JRCS could reconfirm the importance of the preparedness in securing the safety of staff involving in such relief activities.

In the case of Fukushima disaster relief, the challenging factor was that even the authorities did not have a complete overview of the situation following the accident. Consequently, JRCS could not gain sufficient information to act properly. Since various conflicting reports on the width of area that radiation could affect and its various impacts on human bodies, foods, drinking water and environment were widespread, not only the local residents but also the Japanese public and the world was confused and impacted by the proliferation of rumours.

The Red Cross, both domestically and internationally, is not in a position to express any opinions on the pros and cons of nuclear power plants, as this is a highly political issue related to the energy policy of the state. However, knowing the fact that over 400 nuclear power plants exist in approximately 30 countries and some countries are even planning to install new ones, I think it is the responsibility of the state hosting nuclear power plants to prepare for any contingency, for the sake of not only their own citizens but also the surrounding countries and beyond. While nature can rage beyond our imagination and the risk of terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants is undeniable, it is obvious that the safety myth is no longer valid.

What can we in the Red Cross Red Crescent do? First of all, each Red Cross or Red Crescent society in a country with nuclear power plants should revisit its own experience and the knowhow already in its possession and possibly collect further information from its respective government, then share this with other sister Red Cross Red Crescent national societies. In such a context, it is important to share the information not only with its own public but also with the world.
The influence of the nuclear power plant accidents does not respect borders and hence it cannot be resolved by the country of origin alone. I recall that Japanese government was widely criticized on the lack of understanding of the situation on-site and information sharing. This tells us the lesson that the response to the nuclear power plant accidents must always be elaborated in an international context. Further discussions are needed on what can be done prior to the potential accident (“preparedness”), what should be done once the accident occurs (“response”), and what will be done for the future of the affected (“recovery”). I am confident that the grass-roots network of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers can play an important role in disseminating accurate knowledge and preparedness in the community about the potential damage caused by radiation and encourage a mind-set of being “appropriately afraid of radiation” even if an accident occurs.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, of which I am President, adopted the Resolution “Preparedness to Respond to the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Accidents“ at its General Assembly in 2011, calling for the reinforcement of nuclear disaster preparedness.
In line with such an international trend, JRCS is hereby starting to share the information on the lessons and knowledge collected from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident. In future, JRCS, together with other sister Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies and the International Federation, would like to develop Red Cross guidelines for nuclear disaster preparedness and the fruits of this work among sister Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other relief organisations in the world.

In such a context, I hope the Red Cross Nuclear Disaster Resource Center can truly contribute to humanitarian assistance in nuclear disasters by helping us to learn from the past, cope with the problems at present, and prepare for the future.

Tadateru Konoé
Japanese Red Cross Society