October 28, 2015 – 12:30 pm

The single ‘official’ Fukushima cancer case is just the beginning. New scientific research indicates that hundreds more cancers have been and will be contracted in the local population. By Oliver Tickell.

The Japanese government has made its first admission that a worker at the Fukushima nuclear plant developed cancer following decontamination work after the 2011 disaster.

The man worked at the damaged plant for over a year, during which he was exposed to 19.8 millisieverts of radiation, four times the Japanese exposure limit. He is suffering from leukemia.

The former Fukushima manager Masao Yoshida also contracted cancer of the oesophagus after the disaster and died in 2013 - but the owner and operator of the nuclear plant, Tepco, refused to accept responsibility, insisting that the cancer developed too quickly.

Three other Fukushima workers have also contracted cancer but have yet to have their cases assessed.

The Fukushima nudear disaster followed the tsunami of March 11, 2011. Three out of four reactors on the site melted down, clouds of deadly radiation were released following a hydrogen explosion, and the nuclear fuel appears to have melted through the steel reactor vessels and sunk into, or through, the concrete foundations.

The Tip Of An Iceberg

But that single ‘official’ cancer case is just the beginning. New scientific research indicates that hundreds more cancers have been and will be contracted in the local population.

A 30-fold excess of thyroid cancer has been detected among over 400,000 young people below the age of 18 from the Fukushima area.

According to the scientists, “The highest incidence rate ratio, using a latency period of four years, was observed in the central middle district of the prefecture compared with the Japanese annual incidence.”

In a first screening for thyroid cancer among 298,577 young people four years after the disaster, thyroid cancer occurred 50 times more among those in the most heavily irradiated areas, than in the general population, at a rate of 605 per million examinees.

In a second screening round of 106,068 young people conducted in April 2014 in less irradiated parts of the prefecture, the cancer was 12 times more common than for the main population.

Thyroid cancer is commonly developed as a result of acute exposure to radioactive iodine 131, a product of nuclear fission. Because iodine concentrates in the thyroid gland, thyroid damage including cancer is a characteristic marker of exposure to nuclear fallout.

Exposure to iodine-131 presents a high risk in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear accident owing to its short half life of 8 days, making it intensely radioactive. It is estimated to have made up about 9.1 per cent of the radioactive material released at Fukushima.

There’re Many More Cases On The Way!

The paper’s authors note that the incidence of thyroid cancer is high by comparison with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 at the same time following exposure - and warn that many more cases are likely to emerge:

“In conclusion, among those ages 18 years and younger in 2011 in Fukushima Prefecture, approximately 30-fold excesses in external comparisons and variability in internal comparisons on thyroid cancer detection were observed in Fukushima Prefecture within as few as four years after the Fukushima power plant accident. The result was unlikely to be fully explained by the screening effect.

“In Chernobyl, excesses of thyroid cancer became more remarkable four or five years after the accident in Belarus and Ukraine, so the observed excess alerts us to prepare for more potential cases within a few years.”

Scientific studies of Chernobyl victims have also found that the risk of developing thyroid cancer has a long, fat tail - in other words, there is no significant fall in risk over time among people exposed to iodine-131.

According the the US’s National Cancer Institute, summarising the findings in 2011,

“The researchers found no evidence, during the study time period, to indicate that the increased cancer risk to those who lived in the area at the time of the accident is decreasing over time.

“However, a separate, previous analysis of atomic bomb survivors and medically irradiated individuals found cancer risk began to decline about 30 years after exposure, but was still elevated 40 years later. The researchers believe that continued follow-up of the participants in the current study will be necessary to determine when an eventual decline in risk is likely to occur.”

Did WHO Underestimate The Fukushima Radiation Release?

The authors of the Fukushima study also suggest that the amount of radiation released may, in fact, have been more that the World Health Organisation’s and other official estimates:

“Furthermore, we could infer a possibility that exposure doses for residents were higher than the official report or the dose estimation by the World Health Organization, because the number of thyroid cancer cases grew faster than predicted in the World Health Organization’s health assessment report.”

Another consideration - which the authors do not enter into - is the effect of the other radioactive species emitted in the accident including 17.5 per cent Caesium-137 and 38.5 per cent Caesium 134. These longer-lived beta-emitters (30 years and two years respectively) present a major long term hazard as the element is closely related to potassium and readily absorbed into biomass and food crops.

Yet another radiation hazard arises from long lived alpha emitters like plutonium 239 (half life 24,100 years) which is hard to detect. Even tiny nano-scale specks of inhaled plutonium entering the lungs and lymphatic system can cause cancer decades after the event by continuously ‘burning’ surrounding tissues and cells.

Note: The paper, ‘Thyroid cancer detection by ultrasound among residents aged 18 years and under in Fukushima, Japan: 2011 to 2014‘, is published in Epidemiology. Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist, where this article originally appeared. The above article was also posted at CounterPunch.

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$ingapore has decided to import rice from Japan’s Fukushima region, the country’s nation-builder press reported August 19, 2014, barely three years after the disaster.

The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh), a major wholesaler of Japanese agricultural products, said it will send the grain to $ingapore. Its provenance will be marked and it will not be mixed with other produce, an official said. The rice was grown some 60km to 80km west of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, he said.

It was noted that this would have been the first time rice grown in Fukushima prefecture - which hosts the battered Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant - has been sold abroad since fiscal 2012, when the region exported 17 tonnes to Hong Kong, a Fukushima official said.

“Despite our efforts at explaining the safety of Fukushima-made farm products, up until now we have not been able to find retailers who wished to trade rice grown in Fukushima,” said an official for Zen-Noh. “From now on, we aim to export more Fukushima rice, including to $ingapore.” (click here)

On August 18, 2015, it was reported that rice imported from Fukushima is tested in $ingapore by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of $ingapore (click here) and that no radioactive contamination was detected.  However, it has never been mentioned how food products from Fukushima is tested.

The nation-builder press, October 14, 2015.

The above October 2015 article in the nation-builder press above highlighted an instance where a $ingapore government regulator apparently made a mistake. $ingaporeans who relied on the National Environment Agency (NEA) to properly check car emissions got a big shock when the authority slipped up on its testing of Volkswagen cars. The nation-builder’s Christopher Tan said:

We trust the Health Sciences Authority to ensure that the medicine we are taking does not contain unacceptable levels of arsenic. We trust the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to ensure that the vegetables we import have permissible levels of pesticide. We trust the Land Transport Authority to make sure cars imported are roadworthy.

In the case of insidious dangers in the air that we breathe, it is always good to know we have the National Environment Agency (NEA) to safeguard our interest. But as we have seen in the (Volkswagen) case, environmental agencies all over the world have been duped - not just the NEA. (click here for the full article)

Smile and eat your Fukushima rice. The AVA says it’s safe. You can trust them.

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