Children living near the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant have significantly higher rates of thyroid cancer than children not living near the site, says the author of a new study.

Researchers found that children living near the nuclear meltdowns have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a rate 20 to 50 times that of children elsewhere. The finding contradicts the government’s assertion that more cases of the disease are being diagnosed in the area due to rigorous monitoring. [1]

According to recent numbers from the US-based International Society for Environmental Epidemiology and the Fukushima Medical University, 137 children out of the 370,000 living in the region have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer – up by 25 from last year. In areas largely unaffected by the meltdown, the disease is diagnosed in 1 or 2 children for every million.

“This is more than expected and emerging faster than expected,” lead author Toshihide Tsuda told The Associated Press during a visit to Tokyo. “This is 20 times to 50 times what would be normally expected.”

The Japanese government is unwilling to accept the findings, with Shoichiro Tsugane of the National Cancer Center arguing that “Unless radiation exposure data are checked, any specific relationship between a cancer incidencce and radiation cannot be identified.” Tsugane, who is director of the Research Center for Cancer Prevention and Screening, pointed to a global increase in the misdiagnosis of thyroid cancer.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to definitively link an individual diagnosis of cancer to radiation. Scientists such as Tsugane argue that looking for thyroid cancer through routine check-ups leads to quicker discovery of tumors, and that increases the numbers of cancer diagnoses. [2]

On March 11, 2011, the northern part of Japan was struck with a monster 9.0 earthquake that triggered a massive tsunami. The wall of water directly hit the Fukushima Diiachi nuclear power station, situated on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The plant’s piping and facilities for the external power supply and backup power were destroyed. Two explosions tore the roof from reactor No. 1 and reactor No. 2.

Following the Fukushima disaster, the lead doctor brought in to Fukushima, Shunichi Yamashita, repeatedly said there would be no radiation-induced illnesses and ordered the thyroid checks just to be cautious. Yamashita and other scientists point to the fact that the amount of radioactive iodine released by the disabled plant was considerably less than the amount released by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. [3]

While many Japanese scientists still maintain the site poses no cancer risk to locals, an area of 12 miles surrounding the Fukushima Diiachi power plant has been declared an exclusion zone and the borders are constantly being remapped in order to clean up radiated debris and soil. The goal is to eventually allow residents to return to the area, but it could be decades before that becomes possible.

In May, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) warned that leaking containers at the plant are at risk of possible hydrogen explosions after 10% of recently inspected containers holding contaminated water were found to be leaking radioactive water. Officials said they believed that gases had accumulated in the sediment at the base of the containers, causing the liquids to expand and overflow. [6]

Sources:

[1] NBC News

[2] Quartz

[3] The Associated Press

[6] The Telegraph


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.