Fukushima infant cancer risks outlined in new WHO report

A magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed nearly19,000 people after triggering a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclearpower plant in March 2011. Following the radioactive meltdown – theworst since the 1986 Chernobyl power plant disaster – scientistshave closely measured the potential long-term impact of the spreadof radiation.An increase in child cancer rates was discovered in the mostcontaminated areas of Fukushima Prefecture, with young girls in thearea at a 70 percent increased risk of contracting thyroid cancer.The standard risk is 0.75 percent, rising to 1.25 in the plantarea. There was a 4 percent increased chance of all solid cancers infemales exposed as infants, a 6 percent increased risk of breastcancer in the same group, and around a 7 percent increased risk ofleukemia in males exposed as infants. In these areas, a radiationdose of approximately 50 milli-sieverts was measured.“Apart from emergency workers, the most affected people werethose who remained in some highly contaminated towns and villagesto the northwest of the power station for up to four months beforeevacuation,” Jim Smith, professor of Environmental Science atthe University of Portsmouth in England told Reuters.In the second-most contaminated region, just outside the 12-mileradius of the evacuation zone but still inside the prefecture,these risk figures were halved. As the Fukuhsima disaster struck,residents living within 18 miles of the plant were advised toevacuate. In other areas of Fukushima Prefecture, and the rest ofJapan, no observable increases in cancer were expected.The results from those immediately infected area have, however,led to calls for continued monitoring of the potentially adverseeffects.A 200-page report – titled ‘Health Risk Assessment from thenuclear accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake andTsunami based on preliminary dose estimation’ – was conducted byseveral international officials from fields such as radiation riskmodeling, epidemiology, public health and radiation effects.The assessment also covered cases of emergency workers in thearea, one-third of whom are expected to see increased risks ofcancer compared to the local population.No rise is expected for miscarriages, stillbirths and otherconditions stemming from the radiation in infants conceived afterthe accident, the report said.“The WHO report underlines the need for long-term healthmonitoring of those who are at high risk, along with the provisionof necessary medical follow-up and support services,” WHODirector for Public Health and Environment Dr. Maria Neirasaid.Radiation facts- Those exposed to radiation in the most severely contaminatedareas in Fukushima Prefecture received a 50 milli-sievert (MSV)lifetime radiation dose.- Exposure to high levels of radiation can result in radiationsickness. A high level is considered to be over one ‘gray,’ theunit in which a clear absorbed dose of radiation is measured. Overfour grays is a fatal dose for half of all healthy adults.- A sievert is a gray weighted by the effectiveness of aparticular type of radiation. Grays do not take into account theimpact of biological factors, or the radiation type’s effectivenessat damaging tissue.- The sievert measures lower levels of radiation, and is usedwhen assessing long-term risk, rather than the immediate impact ofexposure. There are 1,000 MSV in a sievert.- People safely absorb low levels of radiation in day-to-daylife, averaging about 2 MSV per year. A 1,000 MSV dose would causeradiation sickness, but stop short of killing adults. With a 100MSV dose, an increase in cancer risks is evident.

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Fukushima infant cancer risks outlined in new WHO report

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