Vor zehn Jahren traf Fukushima eine dreifache Katastrophe: das größte Erdbeben in der Geschichte Japans, mehrere Riesen-Tsunami-Wellen und daraufhin die Kernschmelze im Atomkraftwerk Fukushima Daiichi.
Die Uniklinik Fukushima liegt knapp 60 Kilometer Luftlinie vom havarierten Kraftwerk entfernt. Der damalige Leiter der Radiologie, Fumio Shishido war für die Erstversorgung der Verletzten zuständig. Er empfing uns 2014 in seiner Abteilung und erzählte vom 11. März und den Ereignissen nach der Katastrophe. Eine Stunde dauerte das Gespräch, aber nach den ersten Sätzen hatten alle in dem kleinen Hinterzimmer der Uniklinik Zeit und Raum vergessen. Das Interview ist in englischer Sprache.
"Es gab eine Katastrophe, aber die Menschen führen ihr normales Leben weiter"
In 2014, Professor Fumio Shishido, then chairman of the Department of Radiology at Fukushima Medical University, shared a very personal insight into dealing with the 3/11 disasters. His university hospital is closest to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Fumio Shishido also serves as one of the few government core location experts in charge of treating persons exposed to radiation.
Where were you when the big earthquake hit Fukushima back in March 2011?
Prof. Fumio Shishido: I was teaching students. We were in a conference room – pretty high up on the 10th floor of the university hospital building. Suddenly the building started shaking. The earthquake lasted five minutes nonstop, but it really felt much longer. We were lucky, nothing had fallen from the ceiling – and nobody was damaged.
Had you experienced anything like this before?
Earthquakes are not uncommon in our region. I had been in two big quakes before – one was in the 1970ties, in Sendai city, a little bit north of Fukushima. I also experienced a big earthquake at work in the Akita prefecture northwest of Fukushima. A patient was in the CT machine during the quake and we had to pull him from the gantry right away.
What was damaged in 2011?
Luckily, our patients were OK. The machines had only minor damages. It still took us several days to confirm that they could be used safely.
When you learned about the tsunami, how did you prepare for the emergency patients?
At first, we had no idea what was going on in Hamadori, the costal region of the Fukushima prefecture. Outside communication was completely disrupted. Once we knew what had happened, we expected a lot of emergencies. So we discharged stable patients or transferred them to other hospitals. We also knew from the big earthquake in Kobe in 1995 that trauma patients are common. We also knew that pelvic fractures are frequent. So we made sure that the interventional department was on standby for these patients.
When did these patients come?
They never did. We only treated three trauma patients – that was it. My interpretation of the situation is that injured people were washed away by the tsunami. They were not able to make it to the hospital.
When did you find out about the magnitude of the disaster?
On the second day we heard that something was wrong with the nuclear power plant. So we started preparing according to the manual for medical activities after radiation exposure.
You already knew what to do?
Long before this earthquake, the government had assigned me to take a lead in treating patients exposed to radiation in an emergency situation. On Sept 30th 1999, we already had a critical incident at the nuclear power plant in Tokaimura, south of Fukushima – the incident is less known outside of Japan.
Three workers were contaminated and two of them died. After that, the government funded some core locations to prepare for these incidents – and to take care of potential patients. Being in charge of one of these core locations was one of my hidden roles, even before 3/11.
What exactly did you do when you knew that radiation might be leaking from Fukushima Daiichi?
We have a building designated for that purpose on the backside of the hospital site. I called the relevant personnel to that building and we prepared ourselves for whatever might be coming.
What happened next?
On the next day, March 12th, a small-scale explosion happened at the Daiichi nuclear plant. People living close by in Futaba evacuated from their hometown to this hospital. They were very concerned about radiation exposure, so we measured them using dosimetry. Thankfully, everyone was okay. That was the beginning. Two days later, on March 14th, pieces from a hydrogen explosion at Fukushima Daiichi unit 3 – one of the six plants at the site – hit people from the Japanese self-defense forces that were there to help.
Were they injured badly?
In fact, it only affected one person with just a minor neck injury. Altogether we were involved in the treatment of 12 patients that were injured or exposed. The feet of two power plant workers were contaminated with radioactivity. The manual provides a set procedure for this, so we measured the radiation level they were exposed to and decontaminated these patients.
Did everything work according to the manual?
We were supposed to be notified from an organization of the prefecture that patients were coming. That did not happen until the last minute. I got the information that patients were coming to our university hospital from watching TV.
What do you recommend to colleagues who might find themselves in a similar situation?
Doctors should be able to capture how much contamination has happened in their vicinity. They should try to measure the radiation level, if they can. They should know what’s really happening. Fortunately, Fukushima power plant stocked enough dosimeters.
Did the way you inform patients about radiation change?
Patients started asking questions. In the past, I did not talk much about that topic – nowadays, we talk a lot. Regarding CT, I usually tell them that the dose range is more or less between 10 to 20 milliSievert, but that this will not affect their health. Even before the earthquake, we have been trying to scan with the lowest possible dosage. That tendency has been strengthened after 3/11. I think doctors – at least in the Fukushima prefecture – are aware of radiation dose concerns.
People passing the hospital’s entrance see that the new Fukushima Global Medical Science Center is being built. What is it for?
Many people in our area are still concerned about radioactivity and their health. The building is going to be a very advanced high-tech treatment facility with a focus on research and health protection. We will for example screen children’s thyroid glands. We will also provide a medical checkup to the citizens and analyze the results. Some people have mental problems, anxiety being a major one. We are also going to expand our floor space for research and also treatment for cancer.
One last question – what should foreign radiologists coming to Japan take a look at?
Visitors might be interested in the contamination level after the big earthquake. There are some disturbing sites, but other than that people continue living their lives. I would like visitors to see that: There was a disaster, but in the surrounding areas, people move on.