The nuclear power disaster unfolding in Japan, following a 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami, has not only Japan, but also large portions of the US and even parts of Europe on edge. What could possibly be worse, however, is fear itself, according to some health experts.
The Washington Post writes:
"Although radiation escaping from a nuclear power plant catastrophe can increase the risk of many cancers and other health problems, stress, anxiety and fear ended up in many ways being much greater long-term threats to health and well-being after Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and other nuclear accidents, experts said Monday.
"The psychological effects were the biggest health effects of all — by far," said Fred Mettler, a University of New Mexico professor emeritus and one of the world's leading authorities on radiation, who studied Chernobyl for the World Health Organization. "In the end, that's really what affected the most people."
Fears of contamination and anxiety about the health of those exposed and their children led to significantly elevated rates of suicidal thinking and anxiety disorders, and rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression about doubled, Mettler and others said."
Needless to say, the fears are not unfounded. Radioactive exposure is clearly dangerous. However, what the most appropriate remedy might be is a controversial issue.