Surviving the atomic bomb

July 1, 1993

John Burris, president of Beloit College, departed for Japan June 16 for the 38th annual meeting of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) based in Hiroshima. He was nominated by the National Academy of Sciences to serve as one of three visiting directors who oversee the comprehensive and long-term studies of more than 120,000 survivors of the atomic bomb blasts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, approximately half of whom are still alive today.

The results of the studies are published by a staff of approximately 300 in laboratories located in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are used by bodies worldwide to establish radiation protection standards and risk estimates. The studies represent an international resource provided in part by the survivors and their children, for the sake of enhancement of the health of all humankind.

This three-day meeting will continue to have as its main focus cancer incidence and cause of death of atomic-bomb survivors. At present, 45 percent of the original study cohort of 120,000 are still alive. The present focus of monitoring is on those individuals who were mostly in the age categories of 0-9 and 10-19 at the time of the bombing. The foundation will also review the initial pilot phase of a clinical study of second-generation individuals in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is estimated that some13,000 people will be examined over the course of the four-year project.

The study will help determine whether parental exposures have altered the incidence of multi-factorial diseases in the descendants, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. The RERF was formed in 1975 to replace the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) established following World War II. It is a bi-national endeavor in accordance with an agreement between the governments of Japan and the United States. The non-profit foundation is established under Japanese civil law and is funded by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and by the U.S. Department of Energy through the National Academy of Sciences.

The foundation is managed by a bi-national board of directors including five Japanese and four U.S. citizens. The Beloit College president will join Burton Bennett, RERF chair, Richard Setlow of the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Paul L. Ziemer, professor emeritus of Purdue University, and five Japanese directors on the board.

The original Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission was established in 1946 by President Truman, responding to recommendations from Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. The National Academy of Sciences—National Research Council was instructed to undertake long-range continuing studies, and the ABCC studies commenced the following year under the direction of the eminent virologist Thomas M. Rivers. In 1975, the ABCC was replaced by the new foundation with the goal of conducting research “for peaceful purposes, on the medical effects of radiation on man, with a view to contributing to the health and welfare of the atomic health and bomb survivors and the enhancement of the health of mankind.”

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