Radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown has been linked to child cancer, a new study revealed.
The study, authored by Oakayama University professor and epidemiologist Toshihide Tsuda, found that children exposed to radiation in the middle central Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at significantly higher rates than the national annual incidence ratio.
Since the meltdown, the prefecture performed thyroid screenings on all residents under the age of 18, and Tsuda used that data — in comparison with national data and a reference area within the prefecture — to address the popular concern about cancer and exposure to nuclear radiation.
According to the most recent statistics released in August, thyroid cancer is suspected or confirmed in 137 of the 370,000 children screened. To put that number in perspective, the disease affects just one to two children per million each year elsewhere.
During an October 8th press conference in Tokyo, Tsuda said that the frequency of thyroid cancer may increase in the future, and that the neither the prefecture nor the Japanese government was doing enough to deal with the situation.
For its part, the government claims that the increased incidence of thyroid cancer has to do with closer screening, not radiation exposure, and thus a direct relationship between radiation and thyroid cancer cannot be made from Tsuda’s study. This matters because conclusive links between Fukushima radiation exposure and cancer mean that victims are entitled to certain compensation, the Associated Press reported.
The government’s claim that the higher cancer rate is merely due to more frequent observations isn’t unheard of. Linking a single cancer diagnosis to radiation is scientifically impossible, and looking closer at routine check-ups can bring to light more cases that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. The government insisted that, in performing routine thyroid checks, they were just playing it safe — but Tsuda’s results tell a different story.
“This is 20 times to 50 times what would be normally expected,” Tsuda told the AP.
The results of Tsuda’s study call to mind the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, after which the medical community was able to link radiation exposure to child thyroid cancer. The research after Chernobyl also found that the disease is rarely fatal when detected early, and can be treated with medication.
The World Health Organization and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation both ran tests in Fukushima and predicted that cancer levels will stay consistent with pre-nuclear meltdown levels. The direct link between thyroid cancer and the meltdown remains disputed largely because Tsuda’s study does not track the radiation doses of each individual diagnosed with cancer.
Regardless, families living outside of the nearly 13-mile exclusion zone are leaving, the AP reports. A definitive conclusion about the connection between cancer and radiation has yet to be made, but this new study has brought us one step closer.