[FoRK] Fukushima survivors have (relatively) little risk
Stephen D. Williams
sdw at lig.net
Sun Mar 10 03:11:45 PDT 2013
Typical, irrational fears were likely completely unfounded. Japan does irrational well. Not to mention people in California
WHO: Small cancer risk after Fukushima accident
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 10:22am
MARIA CHENG - AP Medical Writer - Associated Press
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People exposed to the highest doses of radiation during Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011 may have a slightly higher
risk of cancer but one so small it probably won't be detectable, the World Health Organization said in a report released Thursday.
A group of experts convened by the agency assessed the risk of various cancers based on estimates of how much radiation people at
the epicenter of the nuclear disaster received, namely those directly under the plumes of radiation in the most affected communities
in Fukushima, a rural agricultural area about 150 miles (240 km) north of Tokyo.
Some 110,000 people living around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant were evacuated after the massive March 11, 2011, earthquake
and tsunami knocked out the plant's power and cooling systems, causing meltdowns in three reactors and spewing radiation into the
surrounding air, soil and water.
Experts calculated that people in the most affected regions had an additional 4 to 7% overall risk of developing cancers, including
leukemia and breast cancer. In Japan, men have about a 41% lifetime risk of developing cancer of an organ, while a woman's lifetime
risk is about 29 percent. For those most hit by the radiation after Fukushima, their chances of cancer would rise by about 1 percent.
"These are pretty small proportional increases," said Richard Wakeford of the University of Manchester, one of the authors of the
"The additional risk is quite small and will probably be hidden by the noise of other (cancer) risks like people's lifestyle choices
and statistical fluctuations," he said. "It's more important not to start smoking than having been in Fukushima."
Experts had been particularly worried about a spike in thyroid cancer, since iodine released in nuclear accidents is absorbed by the
thyroid, especially in children. After the Chernobyl disaster, about 6,000 children exposed to radiation later developed thyroid
cancer because many drank contaminated milk after the accident.
In Japan, dairy radiation levels were closely monitored, but children are not big milk drinkers there.
WHO estimated that women exposed as infants to the most radiation after the Fukushima accident would have a 70% higher chance of
getting thyroid cancer in their lifetimes. But thyroid cancer is extremely rare and the normal lifetime risk of developing it is
about 0.75 percent. That lifetime risk would be 0.5 percent higher for those women who got the highest radiation doses as babies.
Wakeford said the increase in such cancers may be so small it will probably not be observable.
For people beyond the most directly affected areas of Fukushima, Wakeford said the projected risk from the radiation dropped
dramatically. "The risks to everyone else were just infinitesimal."
Some experts said it was surprising that any increase in cancer was even predicted and believe that the low-dose radiation people in
Fukushima received hasn't been proven to raise the chances of cancer.
"On the basis of the radiation doses people have received, there is no reason to think there would be an increase in cancer in the
next 50 years," said Wade Allison, an emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University, who was not connected to the WHO report.
"The very small increase in cancers means that it's even less than the risk of crossing the road," he said.
Gerry Thomas, a professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College London, accused the WHO of hyping the cancer risk.
"It's understandable that WHO wants to err on the side of caution, but telling the Japanese about a barely significant personal risk
may not be helpful," she said.
Thomas said the WHO report used inflated estimates of radiation doses and didn't properly take into account Japan's quick evacuation
of people from Fukushima.
"This will fuel fears in Japan that could be more dangerous than the physical effects of radiation," she said, noting that people
living under stress have higher rates of heart problems, suicide and mental illness.
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