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27 November 2015

The Importance of Improving Communication in Radiation Medicine

Participants at the 2015 STS meeting in Nagasaki University School of Medicine

Participants at the 2015 STS meeting in Nagasaki University School of Medicine

The importance of communicating scientific facts to the public and the role of Science and Technology in Society (STS) became evident in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident. In order to address this issue, the IAEA, through its Peaceful Uses Initiative, initiated a series of projects that addressed STS issues. The culmination of this project was the STS handbook and the STS Training Package which were implemented in Fukushima Medical University as part of their medical curriculum. The next phase includes extending and sharing information with countries in Asia and beyond.

Nagasaki University school of Medicine, in cooperation with IAEA, hosted the second of three planned annual technical meetings on 'Science, Technology and Society (STS) Perspectives on Nuclear Science, Radiation and Human Health - the view from Asia.' Last year Hiroshima University was the host, and next year it will be the National University of Singapore. Shigeru Katamine, the President of the Nagasaki University, stated that they "realized the importance of public perception of low dose radiation risks, rehabilitation measures and long-term health management after any radiological and nuclear accident, in addition to acute and chronic radiation syndromes."

"These efforts highlight STS endeavours in nuclear science, radiation and human health and encourage health professionals to consider related social and communication issues in an interdisciplinary manner," said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the Division of Human Health at IAEA. "Our hope is that this interaction will help communities affected by radiation accidents and yield benefits for people not only in Japan but also world-wide."

The meeting brought new insights into ongoing recovery efforts in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident and proposed effective communication and leadership interventions for health professionals. The meeting participants shared important lessons learnt from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station and discussed STS approaches to enhance communication and collaboration regarding radiation, both within Japan and beyond.

The value of training was emphasized. During the series of events at Fukushima (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant accident), there was a shortage of medical science professionals knowledgeable about disasters and radiation exposure. It became clear that it was necessary to train professionals responsible for communicating information on the long-term health risks of radiation as well as crisis response in the initial phase of an accident. Such training is needed, not only in Japan, but also countries around the world. During his opening remarks, Dr Katamine announced plans to establish a Masters course for radiation medicine, radiation technology and treatments as well as communications in radiation accidents. "On the basis of our own experience in Nagasaki and Fukushima, the two universities, Nagasaki University and Fukushima Medical University, have been newly challenged to establish a new joint Master Course of Disaster Medicine and Radiation Exposure Medical Sciences," he said.

Enhancing the public's understanding and developing and sustaining mutual strong communication channels was highlighted, as was the need to improve the understanding of the radiation health effects particularly in emergencies. The importance of the role of physicians in interacting with policy decision makers was addressed as well as enhancing their abilities in strategic planning and communication with the public.

In addition, presentations were given that provided insights into Fukushima's ongoing recovery efforts and training to enhance community resilience and preparedness for potential future radiation accidents. Involvement of the younger generation was encouraged through presentations from young PhD researchers from the Hiroshima Phoenix Leader Education Programme, as well as from Fukushima Medical University and Nagasaki University. The researchers discussed their scientific work, addressing issues pertaining to communication on radiation risks as well as measures for overall health improvements of Fukushima region residents.

Future projects will further develop the most relevant approaches of STS based on the Fukushima experience and Japanese curriculum development that has been taking place over the last few years as a part of the interaction of the IAEA and Fukushima Medical University. Lessons learnt from these on-going efforts will be widely available.

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