A tremendous amount of radioactive products were discharged as a result of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, which resulted in radioactive contamination of the plant and surrounding areas. While geographical distribution of radioactive iodine, tellurium, and cesium in the surface soils was smoothly (but not always systematically) widespread all over the region, health risk information by the government, media, and other organizations is most likely to be given in terms of administrative boundaries (cf. prefectures, municipalities, etc.) and/or distance from the radiation source.
This paper estimates the effect of such health risk information rather than the actual health risks of radiation on land and other prices in different locations. We find that the prefecture and municipality border effects – but not the distance effect from the nuclear power plant – are significantly related to a reduction in land and other prices after the accident. This shows that people responded to health risk information based on administrative boundaries rather than the actual health risk of radiation after the disaster. Although health risk information based on prefecture and municipality boundaries has an obvious advantage of distilling large and complex risk information into a simple one, the government, media, and other organizations need to recognize and carefully examine the potential of misclassifying non-contaminated areas into contaminated prefectures. Doing so will avoid unintentional consequences to the region’s economy.
Hiroaki Matsuura is currently Departmental Lecturer in the Economy of Japan in the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford and a Junior Research Fellow of St. Antony’s College. His main interests are health economics and demography, with a special interest in the relation between laws and population health. Hiroaki received his B.A. in Economics from Keio University, M.A. in Social Science from the University of Chicago, M.S. in Project Management from Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Sc.D. in Global Health and Population (Economics track) from Harvard University’s School of Public Health. In the past, he was affiliated with Institute of Quantitative Social Sciences, Human Rights in Development, and Takemi Program in International Health at Harvard University. He also worked as a research assistant at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His doctoral dissertation research explores a right to health or to health care in national constitutions of 157 countries and state constitutions of the 50 U.S. states and estimates the impact of introducing (or removing) a right to health or to health care into national and state constitutions on health system and population health outcomes. His most recent article, “The Right to Health in Japan: Challenges of a Super Aging Society and Implication from Its 2011 Public Health Emergency” (with Eriko Sase) will be appeared on “Advancing the Human Right to Health”, edited by José M. Zuniga, Stephen P. Marks, and Lawrence O. Gostin, Oxford University Press, 2013.