After Fukushima, uncertainty escalated fear

KING’S COLLEGE LONDON (UK) — To reduce the psychological aftershocks of major disasters like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, people need access to clear and credible information.

For a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, psychiatrists surveyed 284 British people who were in Japan at the time of the accident and found that a third experienced high levels of anger or anxiety, and 16 percent experienced distress.

People were much more likely to experience distress, anger, and anxiety if they felt uncertain about the scale and impact of the disaster, or feared that they had been exposed to radiation.

“Our study shows that reducing uncertainty and improving the credibility of information is essential in reducing the psychological impact of major disasters,” says lead researcher James Rubin from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.


Of the participants surveyed, 150 or 51 percent believed they had been exposed to some radiation and could not definitely rule out health effects. When asked if they felt uncertain when thinking about the incident, 66 participants (23 percent) responded “very much,” 74 (26 percent) answered “somewhat,” 87 (30 percent) replied “moderately” and 59 (21 percent) replied “not at all.”

“Our results also suggest that individual differences in the way people process information about a disaster should be taken into account by those who organize an emergency response,” Rubin says. “Not everybody wants or feels able to consider in-depth information about a risk before forming a judgement about it.”

At the time of the disaster, British nationals got information from a range of sources. The British government was considered the most credible source of information about the leak (with a mean credibility score of 3.5 out of 5), followed by the Japanese media (2.6), the British media (2.4), and the Japanese government (2.2). Almost three-quarters of respondents rated the help of the British Embassy and Foreign and Commonwealth Office as excellent or good.

“This is an interesting study of the emotional responses of British nationals who were in Japan at the time of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear incident,” says co-author Richard Amlôt, scientific program leader with the Health Protection Agency. “It provides us with evidence which will help us to improve the quality and credibility of our public information materials in the aftermath of a health crisis.”

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

Source: King’s College London