public health | March 16, 2011

Chernobyl's Lessons for Japan: Laurie Garrett’s NYT Op-Ed

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, global health speaker Laurie Garrett contrasts the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan with the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. Though details of the accidents in Japan remain sketchy, we can heed lessons from Chernobyl today. For one thing, Garrett notes, the distribution of iodine pills — which help block radiation from being absorbed by the thyroid gland — was slow after Chernobyl, a fatal mistake. (Today, the surrounding area contains the highest instances of pediatric and adult thyroid cancer in the world.)

Unlike the Soviet authorities of 1986, who released biased information to downplay the situation, the Japanese government has responded swiftly to each stage of their disaster: they have evacuated citizens and been relatively transparent about radiation levels. They have “tried to convey information that directs the Japanese people to a rational response.” As Garrett, an eloquent voice on global health care and infectious diseases, reminds us, “while the fallout levels so far have been well above normal background radiation for Japan, they have not yet come close” to those produced at Chernobyl in 1986.

Photo above is by Pop!Tech via Flickr, CC.

Read more about keynote speaker Laurie Garrett