11 June 2014, 11:50

Fukushima accident: children in trouble

Fukushima accident: children in trouble
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Three years after the Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by a devastating earthquake, medical authorities in Fukushima prefecture are reporting a significant rise in the number of thyroid cancer cases among local children and young adults.

In February 2014, the number of confirmed and suspected cases of thyroid cancer among people aged 18 or below at the time of the accident rose to 75, compared with 59 at the end of last September. Of the current total, 33 cases have been confirmed as cancer.

Local health authorities have so far tested around 250,000 out of 375,000 Fukushima children and adolescents, who are due to be screened regularly throughout their lives.

Joseph Mangano, epidemiologist and executive director of Radiation and Public Health Project Research Group, did not rule out that the next few years will see more cancer cases among children living in the disaster-hit area.

“The only study I know was held in Japan and it looked at about 200,000 children near Fukushima. Medics from Fukushima Medical University tested children's thyroid glands because they are very sensitive to such chemicals as iodine. Thyroid cancer among children is very rare, but 72 children with suspected thyroid cancer have already been identified and this number is expected to grow in the coming years,” Joseph Mangano said.

Medical officials in Japan have repeatedly dismissed the link with the Fukushima accident, but conceded that the results required further analysis.

Some experts attributed the large number of cancer cases to the use of hypersensitive ultrasound, which can detect the tiniest lesions, and the large number of children being tested.

Apart from cancer, local kids are suffering from an array of other diseases, says Majia Nadesan, Associate Dean in the New College at Arizona State University.

“The people, including children, are living in a highly contaminated area adjacent to the Fukushima plant. There have been some surveys that looked at what the consequences for kids will be. According to the survey, the past few years have seen an increase in diabetes, thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer among local children. Japan's Mainichi newspaper recently published a report which said that one in four children living in the disaster-hit regions needs mental care over problematic behavior. And the region will not be safe again for generations,” Majia Nadesan said.

Meanwhile, parallels are inevitably being drawn between the Fukushima meltdown and the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in the then-Soviet Union in 1986.

In Fukushima, the first recorded cases of thyroid cancer – whose latent period can be between four or five years to several decades – came just a year after the meltdown. In Chernobyl, it took four years before cancer rates rose.

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