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Japan Program: Radiation Effects Research Foundation

Background: The Department of Energy, Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security, Office of Health and Safety funds studies of the Japanese atomic bomb survivors at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The RERF program is believed to have the longest history of any ongoing international research program. DOE and its predecessor agencies have provided support since 1947.

The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) was established in 1946 to investigate the effects of radiation exposure in survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In April 1975, RERF was established under Japanese law as full successor to ABCC and was designated to continue the research according to an agreement between the Governments of the United States and Japan. The Act of Endowment states that the objective of the Foundation is "to conduct research and studies, for peaceful purposes, on the medical effects of radiation on man and on diseases which may be affected by radiation, with a view to contributing to the maintenance of the health and welfare of atomic bomb survivors and to the enhancement of the health of all mankind." The DOE is committed to the support of the RERF as long as valuable health effects information is to be gained by further follow-up of the survivors (see Blue Ribbon Panel Report on RERF). The DOE Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security and Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) co-fund the RERF program.  Through cooperative agreement with DOE, the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of The National Academies supports RERF activities.

The Life Span Study is the major RERF epidemiologic study that generates data on cancer incidence, cancer mortality, and non-cancer effects in relation to radiation dose. The RERF research program also includes in-utero, genetic, mechanistic, and clinical (Adult Health Studies) studies, as well as, follow-up studies on the children of the survivors (F1 studies). Details on research progress can be found on the RERF website.

The results of RERF research are the primary basis for radiation protection standards throughout the world. The radiation risk estimates rely on an accurate dosimetry system. The dosimetry system DS02 was put in place in 2003 and a major compendium of papers defining the system has been published in February 2006.

Accomplishments:

  • Collaboration between DOE and MHLW has resulted in progress on a number of issues related to the funding and management of the RERF.
  • A series of 5-year agreements between MHLW and DOE has led to stable funding for RERF and increased accountability. The latest 5-year agreement was signed on November 1, 2010.
  • DOE and MHLW developed a plan for completion of needed atomic bomb dosimetry studies, including timeline, research tasks, and funding responsibilities.
  • DOE and MHLW supported the Blue Ribbon Panel Report of 1996 Blue Ribbon Panel Report and promoted the highest standards of independent peer review of the RERF scientific projects through the Science Council and other appropriate mechanisms. DOE and MHLW supported another senior panel to review the scientific progress and plans of RERF and make recommendations concerning the future of RERF. The Senior Review Panel report (2008) recommended that the core studies be continued for the next 20 years.
  • DOE and MHLW have been facilitating the process of converting RERF into a Public Interest Foundation.
  • RERF has completed its transition to a public interest incorporated foundation on April 1, 2012.
  • DOE-sponsored a half-day technical session and a full day workshop on Atomic Bomb Survivor Dosimetry - Residual Radiation Exposure at the Health Physics Society annual meeting in Sacramento in July 2012. The technical session included presentations on recent studies by six Japanese and six U.S. scientists. Following the technical session, presenters and other invited scientists participated in a one-day workshop that provided time for detailed discussions of recent studies and to evaluate the use of these studies in clarifying potential residual radiation doses to atomic-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A report that provides a summary of the workshop was published in the Health Physics Journal.

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