News / Health

    UN Scientists: Fukushima Meltdown Not Causing Many Cancers

    A man walks between fallow rice fields in Miyakoji in Tamura, Fukushima prefecture, April 1, 2014.
    A man walks between fallow rice fields in Miyakoji in Tamura, Fukushima prefecture, April 1, 2014.
    Reuters
    Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster is unlikely to lead to a rise in the number of people developing cancer like after Chernobyl in 1986, even though the most exposed children may face an increased risk, U.N. scientists said on Wednesday.
     
    In a major study, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said it did not expect “significant changes” in future cancer rates that could be attributed to radiation exposure from the reactor meltdowns.
     
    The amounts of radioactive substances such as iodine-131 released after the 2011 accident were much lower than after Chernobyl, and Japanese authorities also took action to protect people living near the stricken plant, including evacuations.
     
    However, some children - estimated at fewer than 1,000 - might have received doses that could affect the risk of developing thyroid cancer later in life, UNSCEAR said, making clear that the probability of that happening was still low.
     
    UNSCEAR chair Carl-Magnus Larsson said there was a theoretical increased risk among the most exposed children as regards to this type of cancer, which is a rare disease among the young.
     
    But “we are not sure that this is going to be something that will be captured in the thyroid cancer statistics in future,” he told a news conference.
     
    Wolfgang Weiss, who chaired the Fukushima assessment, said the thyroid cancer risk was much lower than after Chernobyl and any increase would affect a limited number of people.
     
    Worst disaster since Chernobyl
     
    On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 220 km northeast of Tokyo, spewing radiation and forcing about 160,000 people to flee their homes.
     
    It was the world's worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl reactor explosion sent radioactive dust across much of Europe. People close to the then Soviet plant were exposed to radioactive iodine that contaminated milk.
     
    In contrast, UNSCEAR's Fukushima report said it expected a low impact on cancer rates of the population and that this was largely due to “prompt protective actions” by Japanese authorities following the accident.
     
    A 30-km radius around the plant was declared a no-go zone, while areas where radiation was not so critically high took steps such as replacing the earth in parks and school playgrounds, decontaminating public spaces like sidewalks, and limiting children's outdoor play time.
     
    “No discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected due to exposure to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident,” UNSCEAR said in a statement accompanying its nearly 300-page study.
     
    'Don't be scared'
     
    The thyroid - a gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate vital bodily functions - is the most exposed organ as radioactive iodine concentrates there. Children are deemed especially vulnerable.
     
    UNSCEAR said the normal thyroid cancer risk for young children was very low.
     
    “The occurrence of a large number of radiation-induced thyroid cancers as were observed after Chernobyl can be discounted because doses were substantially lower,” it said.
     
    In Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, the countries most affected by Chernobyl, more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer had been reported by 2005 in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident, UNSCEAR says on its website.
     
    UNSCEAR said about 35,000 children aged up to five lived in districts where the average absorbed dose to the thyroid was between 45 and 55 milliGrays (mGy), a radiation measurement.
     
    But doses varied considerably among individuals, from about two to three times higher or lower than the average.
     
    Low risk
     
    UNSCEAR “considered that fewer than a thousand children might have received absorbed doses to the thyroid that exceeded 100 mGy and ranged up to about 150 mGy,” the report said.
     
    “The risk of thyroid cancer for this group could be expected to be increased,” it said.
     
    UNSCEAR's press statement made clear it was still not seen as a big risk, however, with a headline saying: “Low risk of thyroid cancer among children most exposed.”
     
    Weiss said his message to the families would be: “The risk is low. Continue life. Don't be scared. But if you have the feeling that you need support, consult a physician who is specialized on this type of question.”
     
    UNSCEAR said 80 leading scientists had worked on the report - “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami” - and that the material was reviewed by its 27 member states.

    You May Like

    Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Video Canine Reading Buddies Help Students With Literacy

    Idea behind reading program is that sharing book with nonjudgmental companion boosts students' confidence and helps instill love of reading

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora