Doctors are reporting a growing number of thyroid cancer cases among Fukushima children, three years after the nuclear accident at the Japanese crippled power plant.
However, it is not clear yet if the growing number of thyroid cancer cases was caused by the high radiation level in the area or just by the fact that more rigorous check-ups are done now.
Last month, the number of confirmed and suspected cases of thyroid cancer among people aged 18 or below at the time of the accident rose to 75, compared with 59 at the end of last September, the international press reports.
Doctors say the results are not directly connected to the nuclear accident, but admitted that they need further analysis.
Inevitably, the nuclear accident at Fukushima was compared to the one at Chernobyl in 1986. Dillwyn Williams, emeritus professor of pathology at Cambridge University, pointed out that a noticeable increase in thyroid cancers was not observed until three to four years after the Chernobyl accident.
“Much less radioactivity was released from Fukushima than from Chernobyl,” he said. “Most of [the Fukushima radiation] was blown over the Pacific Ocean, and thyroid doses in the most-affected areas are low compared to Chernobyl.
“It is very unlikely there will be a large increase in thyroid cancer or any other health problems, apart from anxiety and psychological difficulties. That does not mean the surveillance should stop. There were surprises after Chernobyl and there may be again after Fukushima.”
However, the anxiety felt by parents in Fukushima is caused by a general lack of trust in the local medical authorities, which have come under government pressure not to cause alarm among residents.
“[Comparing screenings among children in a region of Japan that was not affected by the disaster] is such an obvious measure that could be completed in about six months, but the government has done absolutely nothing for three years,” said Koichiro Ono, a local kindergarten teacher. “The government is worried that if the results suggest that there is a link, it will ruin its plans to restart nuclear reactors.”
“How can anyone talk about life returning to normal in Fukushima until everything has been done to ensure that people have their health?” said Toshiyuki Kamei, the mother of a l2-year-old girl who was diagnosed with several tiny nodules on her thyroid gland. “Politicians keep talking about recovery, but that does not mean anything to people living around here.”