Natural disasters and extreme weather events pose significant challenges for those directly affected and those who are in charge of managing the aftermath. In particular, people who work with ionizing radiation need to be aware of situations that could arise involving increased exposure to radiation.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake shook northeastern Japan resulting in a tsunami that knocked out power to much of the region. Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and surrounding facilities lost power. The disaster was compounded when the emergency generators became disabled. The power loss to the cooling systems led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactors, and officials rushed to evacuate surrounding towns. Despite their efforts, hundreds of people in the area died due to the earthquake and tsunami.

TEPCO was found to be in violation of basic safety requirements. Several years later, five Italian researchers published a paper detailing why the disaster had occurred, and how other organizations that work with ionizing radiation — including hospitals — can better prepare for natural disasters.[1] Those recommendations include:

  1. When creating emergency contingency plans, facilities that use radiation should consider low-probability extreme weather events. Even though these events are not likely to happen, facilities should still clarify roles and responsibilities.
  2. For new hospitals and radiological facilities, designers should factor in the possibility of external disasters when making their plans. Good planning includes establishing the ability for manual control of safety devices during a loss of power.
  3. Facilities should complete a safety assessment that anticipates what will happen when a number of extreme scenarios occur, resulting in the loss of vital systems.
  4. Hospitals should have a radiation expert available 24/7 who can coordinate the emergency team if a disaster occurs.

The magnitude of natural disasters often cannot be predicted but preparation for these possible events are crucial to safeguard the health of all involved.






After a tsunami in Japan, a chain-reaction of events led to three nuclear reactors melting at a major nuclear power plant.

Five Italian researchers published a paper detailing how facilities using radiation can better prepare for natural disasters.

Lessons learned by researchers from this nuclear power plant disaster can be applied to hospitals.