Office of Environment, Health, Safety & Security

The 70th Anniversary of Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission – Radiation Effects Research Foundation Radiation Health Studies

July 11, 2017

You are here

On June 19, 2017, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), located in Minami-ku, Hiroshima, held its 70th Anniversary event at the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association Hall.  

RERF is one of the major U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security (EHSS) programs.  EHSS provides funding to the RERF in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in partnership with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW).  The RERF program is believed to have the longest duration of any international research program. The RERF program is not a typical research program since it aims at fostering the health and welfare of these survivors. Similar to other EHSS programs, a major concern is the individuals who have been adversely affected by the legacy of nuclear weapons production and use.

At the beginning of the commemorative event, RERF Chairman Dr. Ohtsura Niwa delivered greetings emphasizing that the results from RERF continue to contribute to the health maintenance and welfare of atomic-bomb survivors and their children and are a valuable resource with which to enhance the health of all humanity.  He also expressed his heartfelt gratitude of the cooperation and the long-term participation of the survivors and their children in RERF health studies.

Following Dr. Niwa’s greetings, additional greetings were delivered by representatives of the United States and Japanese governments. The funding agencies recognized that continuation of the atomic-bomb survivor radiation health studies is essential to provide definitive answers on the health effects of low dose ionizing radiation. Other greetings from distinguished guests were delivered by the Governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, Mayor of Hiroshima City, President of Hiroshima University, President of Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association, and President of Hiroshima City Medical Association.

Two commemorative lectures were given. The first lecture, The Gift of Knowledge:  Contribution of A-bomb Survivors to the Daily Life of People in the World, was delivered by  Dr. Fred Mettler; and the second lecture, The Lives of Atomic Bomb Survivors, was delivered by an atomic-bomb survivor and Chairman of Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations.

Mr. Matthew Moury, Associate Under Secretary for Management and Operations, was the DOE representative at RERF’s 70th Anniversary.

Matt Moury speaking at the the 70th Anniversary RERF Event in Hiroshima, Japan
Mr. Matthew Moury providing his greetings at the 70th ABCC-RERF Anniversary – Photo provided by Isaf Al-Nabulsi, Office of Health and Safety, EHSS.

In his greetings, Mr. Moury acknowledged that RERF is an important priority for the Department of Energy and for the United States.  It also represents the strength of the Department’s friendship and international alliance.  Through epidemiological research and clinical screenings of the atomic-bomb survivors, RERF has strived to contribute to the medical care and welfare of the survivors by means of providing the latest scientific information.

Mr. Moury emphasized the scientific and humanitarian work of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission that was continued when the RERF was established in 1975 when the  United States and Japanese governments solidified their commitment in supporting research that would benefit the atomic-bomb survivors, as well as all mankind. The RERF represents the longest partnership of the United States and Japanese governments in a scientific program and is a model of worldwide scientific cooperation.

He extended the U.S. Government’s and especially DOE’s sincere gratitude to the atomic-bomb survivors for their understanding and support of the important work of the RERF.

He thanked and congratulated all current and past Directors and employees of the RERF who have produced landmark studies of international significance.

Mr. Moury also thanked DOE’s partners, the Japanese MHLW, who have worked with DOE to jointly fund the RERF.  He also noted that he has confidence that DOE and MHLW, together, will succeed in a continuing journey to further understand the health impacts of radiation exposure and how to best protect current and future generations.

The history of DOE and the history of RERF are intertwined.  At the end of World War II, the Atomic Energy Act was signed in 1946 and the civilian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was formed.  One mission of the AEC was to promote nuclear applications for scientific, medical, and industrial purposes.  In August 1947, the first contract between the AEC and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was signed to establish the laboratories of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), which later became RERF. This was the foundation for the long-term health study of the survivors and the long history of support for ABCC/RERF by DOE and its predecessor Agencies.

Hiroshima after bombing. The large building in the background, now called the A-bomb dome, remains standing within the Peace Memorial Park.
Photo from DOE Office of History and Heritage Resources

 

 

Hiroshima after bombing. The large building in the background, now called the A-bomb dome, remains standing within the Peace Memorial Park. This area is near the hypocenter of the bomb blast. Irradiated materials, such as granite and copper samples, have been collected at various distances from the hypocenter and used in the estimation of radiation doses from the bomb.

The Energy Research and Development Administration was instrumental in establishing RERF under Japanese law as the full successor to ABCC to continue the research under a binational system, shortly before DOE was established in 1977.  Today, DOE is the major U.S. funder of both basic research and epidemiological studies involving environmentally relevant doses of radiation, and AU has the leadership role in supporting studies of exposed populations.

RERF Hiroshima Laboratory
Photo courtesy of RERF

 

 

The RERF Hiroshima Laboratory (quonset hut shape) sits atop Hijiyama in a public park located in the southern ward of Hiroshima, a modern city with a population of more than 1 million. Ground zero would be to the left of the river and approximately 1800 meters from RERF.

The RERF Act of Endowment states its objective “to conduct research and studies, for peaceful purposes, on 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 results of RERF research are the primary basis for radiation protection standards throughout the world. Radiation risk estimates rely on an accurate dosimetry system, which has been established through funding to international scientists through DOE and the Japanese MHLW.

The core projects of RERF are the Life Span Study, the Adult Health Study, the F1 (Children of the A-bomb Survivors) Study, and the In-Utero Study. The Life Span Study consists of a large cohort (120,000 persons) encompassing a wide range of known doses. Risks are evaluated for cancer incidence, cancer mortality, and noncancer effects in relation to radiation dose. About 30 percent of the study population are still living, and about 80 percent of the survivors exposed under the age of ten are still living. Clinical examinations of atomic-bomb survivors are conducted every 2 years in a smaller population in the Adult Health Study and provide a continuing health profile of an aging population.  In addition, blood samples are collected under informed consent for future analysis.

The F1 Study determines whether genetic effects might be apparent that could be related to parental exposures. Thus far, no genetic effects have been observed. The In-Utero Study is a unique evaluation of the lifetime health experience of those who were in-utero at the time of the bombings (about 3,600 persons).  Further information about RERF can be obtained at http://www.rerf.or.jp.