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Two nursing students from the College of Nursing’s Homeland Security Nursing program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, traveled this summer to Hiroshima, Japan, to study the long-term effects of radiation exposure from an atomic blast.

Sixty-two years ago this month, the United States of America dropped “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare, on Hiroshima. Today, many survivors of the A-bomb still feel its effects.

Once enemies, the governments of the United States and Japan now work together through the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) in Hiroshima to learn more about the effects of radiation exposure.

Top scientists from around the world are asked to conduct research there, and in a rare opportunity, Debbie Persell and Beth Fiske, UT nursing students, were invited to go. Their four-week visit was coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy, the RERF and HICARE, the Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation-exposed.

“I think it speaks well of the program at UT that someone from the Department of Energy would want us to go,” said Persell, who teaches disaster preparedness courses as an associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Arkansas State University.

The scientists at the RERF study the different populations affected by the blast and how their side-effects varied based on their distance from ground zero, period of time exposed to the radiation and age when exposed.

“Though the bombing of Hiroshima was probably the single most horrific act of war in history, the research being conducted at the RERF shows us that we can benefit and learn from what happened,” said Fiske, an assistant professor of nursing at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.

Persell and Fiske visited with scientists one-on-one to learn about their research firsthand.
“We had personal conversations with some of the leading researchers on radiation exposure in the world. We could ask them anything and get immediate feedback. It was amazing,” Persell said.

During the third week of their stay, the emphasis of the program switched from research to the care of survivors. Persell and Fiske interacted with several, whose ages ranged from 75 to 97, and heard their stories of survival.

“Though they spoke of the horror that happened that day, they were so nice to us and happy that we were willing to hear their stories,” said Persell.
The message from the survivors: Don’t let history repeat itself.

“So many survivors tell their story to promote a message of peace and let the world know that something like this should never happen again,” said Fiske.

Debbie Persell, (870) 934-8823,
Beth Fiske, (865) 693-2562,
Kristi Hintz, (865) 974-3993,

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