China Health Minister on Japan Crisis: ‘Uncertainties’ Loom on Radiation Risk

BY News Desk  March 17, 2011 at 11:33 AM EST

The PBS NewsHour has a reporting team in China this week, working on health, economy and other stories for a series you’ll see in coming weeks. But given the events in Japan, they are also monitoring the Chinese reaction to its neighbor’s triple crisis of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear woes.

Plus, as leaking radiation from a badly damaged Japanese nuclear plant travels through the atmosphere, many in China are watching closely for possible health risks.

Special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye spoke with Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu about how Beijing is responding to the Japanese crisis. Read their exchange here:

CHEN ZHU: Yesterday, the decision was made that the safety at nuclear plants should be strengthened in a very significant way so that the operation of the nuclear plants will be examined in the coming weeks. And also the regulations will be revisited. And new proposals for construction of nuclear plants should receive the strictest evaluation in the future.

And the Chinese government is now making a nuclear power safety plan for the coming years. And the decision was made, any project not abiding by that plan will be stopped.

Of course to avoid panic of the people, the health department in China is mobilizing to give more education of the people and our monitoring system — particularly at the level of the environment protection, as well as Ministry of Health — are working day in, day out.

JEFFREY KAYE: Are you increasing monitoring?

CHEN ZHU: We have the Department of Environmental Protection, they have the monitoring system for surveillance of the radioactive contamination. And at Ministry of Health, we have the Chinese CDC for radioactive contamination in water and food. In addition, at the border inspection … the agency is also increasing inspection of imported food from Japan.

JEFFREY KAYE: And what about the air?

CHEN ZHU: That is controlled by Environmental Protection, actually.

JEFFREY KAYE: Have you seen any change? What has surveillance shown?

CHEN ZHU: So far, China has not been affected by the radiation issue because of the direction of the wind.

JEFFREY KAYE: But that could change?

CHEN ZHU: Yes. But according to expert estimation, the risk for major threat to the people’s health is not yet there. I think IAEA says the same thing. But we are closely observing things, because there are so many uncertainties.