As has been pointed out on this blog numerous times, in the aftermath of environmental disasters, there are gender-specific impacts that need to be addressed. This is especially true in a nuclear disaster such as the one that occurred in Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. As IPS reports,
Women of reproductive age are at significant risk from the effects of radiation on their bodies and reproductive systems. Studies show women’s exposure to radiation may harm her future ability to bear children and can cause premature aging. The U.S. Center for Disease Control warns pregnant women that, in the event of exposure to radiation, even at low doses, the health consequences for unborn foetuses “can include stunted growth, deformities, abnormal brain function, or cancer that may develop sometime later in life…
…In the two decades after Chernobyl, approximately 200,000 people died. Women living in highly contaminated areas in Ukraine and Belarus were affected by chromosome disorders, leukaemia, psychological trauma, depression, and multiple birth defects in their children. Among women who lived in the affected area, medical studies detected high levels of thyroid and breast cancer. Unfortunately, the former Soviet Union failed to provide timely and continuous information about the effects of radiation on human health.
In light of the unique risk to women’s health caused by exposure to radiation, the Japanese government and international agencies must take immediate action. Yet neither the World Health Organisation nor the International Atomic Energy Association – the two international bodies that monitor health and nuclear security respectively – have provided any information about the effect of radiation exposure to women’s bodies. Even a simple google search on the impact of radiation on women does not yield much, nor are there steps that women can take to mitigate the impact on her health and her children.
At the very least, pregnant women and women of childbearing age should be offered the opportunity for counseling about the risks and given the opportunity to access food and water that is radiation-free. But as IPS points out, for those already exposed, the damage is done and cannot be reversed and the result is that there will be many miscarriages and children born with birth defects.
As I write this, I note that the radiation readings at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are the highest they have been since the earthquake and tsunami struck, a start indication that this the magnitude of this crisis is not in any way decreasing and in all likelihood, will get worse. Think it can’t happen in the U.S.? The Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio had to be shut down after abnormally high readings last week.