World Health Organisation downplays health impacts of Fukushima nuclear disaster

Press release - 28 February, 2013
(Updated March 4, 2013) Amsterdam, February 28, 2013 – Greenpeace today criticised the World Health Organisation for releasing a flawed new report that hides crucial information on the health impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“The WHO report shamelessly downplays the impact of early radioactive releases from the Fukushima disaster on people inside the 20 km evacuation zone who were not able to leave the area quickly,” said Dr. Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International nuclear radiation expert. 

“The WHO should have estimated the radiation exposure of these people to give a more accurate picture of the potential long-term impacts of Fukushima. The WHO report is clearly a political statement to protect the nuclear industry and not a scientific one with people’s health in mind.”

The people inside the 20 km zone have possibly been exposed to significant radiation doses of hundreds of mSv, according to the work of German nuclear expert Oda Becker. She used modelling based on the data from Fukushima plant operator TEPCO on radioactive releases to calculate potential doses for people 10, 15, 20 and 40 km from the reactors.

The WHO report and its PR spin shockingly downplay the likelihood that thousands of people are at risk of cancer from the Fukushima disaster. They hide the cancer impacts by emphasising small percentage increases in cancers. Those small percentages actually translate into thousands of people being at risk.  

“The WHO’s flawed report leaves its job half done,” said Teule. “The WHO and other organisations must stop downplaying and hiding the impact of the Fukushima disaster and call for more emphasis on protecting the millions of people still living in contaminated areas.”

The WHO only releases reports on the impact of radiation releases on a population with the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

NOTE (March 4, 2013)

In response to this statement, the WHO contacted Greenpeace International and stated that it had not consulted with the IAEA about the WHO's Health Risk Assessment report on the Fukushima disaster, despite the 1959 Agreement between the WHO and IAEA (Article I-3  refers to a ‘mutual agreement’) and their ongoing cooperation into the study of radiation effects (referred to on page 10 of the Fukushima report).

Regardless of whether the WHO directly consulted with the IAEA on this report or not, it is shameful how the WHO downplays the radiation risks for the Fukushima victims, as it did with the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

In regards its Fukushima report, the WHO has so far not responded to Greenpeace's criticisms regarding:

-the omission of the impact of early radioactive releases on people in the 20 km zone
-the lack of clarity on how the risk percentages translate into actual numbers of people being at risk

Greenpeace International continues to seek these answers.


Dr. Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International radiation expert, , +31 6 2883 3207

Aaron Gray-Block, Greenpeace International media relations, , +31 6 4616 2026

Greenpeace International Press Desk Hotline, Amsterdam +31 20 7182470

Link to Oda Becker document
Greenpeace’s “Lessons from Fukushima” report can be viewed here.