Japan earthquake: WHO puts global radiation experts on standby
MANILA, 13 March 2011—As part of its response to the nuclear power plant crisis in Japan, the World Health Organization (WHO) has alerted its global network of health experts specialized in nuclear-related disasters. The grouping, the Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN), is composed of more than 40 specialized institutions with expertise in radiation emergency medicine, public health interventions and long-term follow-up.
REMPAN's experts are now on standby but will not travel to Japan unless their assistance is requested by the Japanese authorities. A number of the REMPAN institutions are based in Japan, providing the country with a high level of domestic expertise.
WHO's Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO) in Manila has activated its Event Management Group, which has been monitoring the situation in close communication with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan and with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
An explosion occurred at Unit 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, but the Japanese authorities reported that the incident did not involve the reactor core and containment around the radioactive core remained intact. The authorities said the cooling system at Unit 3 in the Fukushima Daiichi complex was also not fully functioning. Residents living within 20km of the Fukushima Daiichi facility have been evacuated.
WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo, praised the response of the Japanese authorities. "Japan has enormous expertise in all aspects of nuclear energy. They are taking appropriate precautions by implementing protective measures, including evacuating people near the plants," he said.
The nuclear emergency followed a 9.0-magnitude earthquake (upgraded from the previous 8.9 by the Japan Meteorological Agency) that struck off the north-east coast of Japan on 11 March, 2011, at 05:46:23 GMT. The quake–the most powerful ever recorded in Japan–triggered a tsunami that devastated the coastal areas of Tohoku and southern Hokkaido.
By noon on 13 March, 763 deaths had been officially confirmed, 1419 people had been injured and 639 were reported missing. These figures were likely to rise as access to remote areas improved and a comprehensive assessment of the affected areas was undertaken.
Hospital services were so far said to be coping, with 145 of the 170 designated emergency response hospitals in Japan fully functioning.
The earthquake sent a tsunami rolling across the Pacific Ocean, but minimal damage was reported and all warnings have now been lowered. For most Pacific islands, the waves did not exceed 50cm, though Papua New Guinea experienced unusually high tides. Minor flooding was reported in low-lying areas on the northeast coast. WHO is working with the government to assess the situation.
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