National / Science & Health

Child thyroid cancer unlikely to rise in Fukushima but extent of radiation exposure unclear: IAEA

Reuters

An increase in thyroid cancer among children is unlikely after the disaster at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear plant four years ago, but it remains unclear exactly how much radiation children in the vicinity were exposed to, International Atomic Energy Agency said in a new report.

Increased thyroid cancer is generally the leading health concern after exposure to nuclear radiation, but that may not be the case after the three reactor meltdowns at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant in March 2011, the Vienna-based watchdog said in the report, which was released Monday.

“Because the reported thyroid doses attributable to the accident were generally low, an increase in childhood thyroid cancer attributable to the accident is unlikely,” the report says.

“However, uncertainties remain concerning the thyroid equivalent doses incurred by children immediately after the accident,” it adds.

Those uncertainties are largely due to a lack of reliable personal radiation monitoring data immediately after the disaster started, when radioactive iodine and other radioactive materials were spewed into the environment, the report says.

The earthquake and following tsunami made emergency response measures difficult, if not impossible, to implement.

Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that the administration of “stable iodine” to protect children’s thyroid glands was not done uniformly at the time, “primarily due to the lack of detailed arrangements,” the report says.

Detailed screening of children’s thyroid glands is being undertaken now in Japan as part of a survey aimed at the early detection and treatment of diseases.

The report highlights areas where improvements are needed in light of the Fukushima catastrophe. The IAEA said more sustainable solutions are needed for the management of highly radioactive water and radioactive waste being collected at the plant, “including the possible resumption of controlled discharge into the sea.”

The reports adds that countries should prepare detailed scenarios and train workers for coping with worst-case natural disasters, including situations where more than one disaster is combined with a nuclear accident. They should also plan for cleanup operations in the wake of such incidents.

The report calls for strengthened international cooperation in the event of such accidents.