Forty-four children living in areas of Fukushima Prefecture subject to high levels of radiation were screened for thyroid cancer Saturday in Tokyo, highlighting widespread health fears following the 2011 nuclear meltdowns crisis.
Saturday’s checkup in Shinjuku Ward was organized by a fund-raising group established by well-known journalist Ryuichi Hirokawa that supports young victims in the areas worst affected by the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Hirokawa, editor-in-chief of monthly magazine Days Japan, which is known for its in-depth photojournalism, said he immediately realized the risk of children in Fukushima developing thyroid cancer through covering the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe for more than two decades.
He also expressed grave skepticism over the effectiveness of Fukushima’s local government-led screening programs for thyroid cancer, criticizing their infrequency and inadequate feedback.
“These kinds of tests should be organized by the state or local municipalities, who should not only provide worried parents with detailed feedback but also do as much as possible to alleviate the financial burden on them,” Hirokawa said.
Saturday’s examination in Tokyo, on the other hand, provided each participant with sonograms of their thyroid, a step he called essential so that parents can have documentation for future reference, in addition to making available consultations with doctors.
A mother of two daughters who took part in the checkups said that after the triple meltdowns in 2011 she immediately fled from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to Saitama Prefecture to ensure her family’s safety. After the screening, the woman, who asked not to be named for privacy reasons, said a small pustule had been detected in the thyroid of her oldest daughter, 5.
“The doctor assured me there is no immediate health risk, but still it’s very worrying,” the woman told The Japan Times in an interview. “But the good news is that we’ve now got such detailed documentation. My husband and I are planning to discuss what to do with it in the future.”
Another woman from Chiba Prefecture said with relief that both of her daughters, 6 and 2, had tested negative.
“I was worried sick about the results, but it seems my kids are healthy,” said the woman, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “I might have brought the results to another doctor for a second opinion if any abnormality had been detected. But for now, I think I will just keep them for future reference, just in case.”
Eighty-six more children will be similarly tested Sunday.
Fukushima Prefecture initiated a raft of medical examinations for local residents in October 2011, including thyroid checks for those aged under 18 at the time of the March 2011 nuclear disaster.
Of the roughly 360,000 children among them, 175,499 so far have undergone health checkups for possible thyroid cancer. Twelve were confirmed to have tested positive, in addition to 15 deemed at high risk of developing the disease, according to the latest report by Fukushima Medical University.