Three years after the Fukshima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered a triple meltdown, doctors are seeing a significant rise of thyroid cancer in children and young adults. Last month, cases of thyroid cancer in individuals between the ages of 18 and below increased to 75. Out of those patients, 33 cases were confirmed to have cancer.
So far, doctors have tested 254,000 out of 375,000 Fukushima children. They will continue to be screened throughout their lives. Thyroid cancer usually affects one to two people per million. The individuals who develop the illness are within the age range of 10 to 14 years old.
According to the UN Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer in children live in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Emeritus professor of Pathology at Cambridge University Dillwyn Williams noted that most of the radiation blew over the Pacific Ocean. The thyroid doses were low compared to Chernobyl.
However, the rise in thyroid cancer in Fukushima children might not be directly linked to the nuclear accident. Professor of thyroid gland surgery at Fukushima Medical University said doctors are looking for other unknown types of genetic mutations associated with the cancer. He also noted the study could serve as “markers” to determine if the illness is in fact caused by the radiation.
The children in Fukushima are experiencing lack of strength, coordination and emotional problems.”There are children who are very fearful,” director of the Emporium Kindergarten Mitsuhiro Hiragui said. “They ask before they eat anything, ‘does this have radiation in it?’ and we have to tell them it’s okay to eat.”
Since the incident, 267,000 people still live in temporary homes. Their living situation is due to the still high level of radiation in their shelters. Many living facilities are too damaged from the incident to return to. Individuals who can move back into their homes are too frightened to, believing their location is a “hot spot” for the radiation.
The University of Tokyo plan on developing a radiation body scanner for small children. The devices used now to check for levels of radiation exposure are not sensitive enough for young children.
Out of fear that the radiation will soon reach the U.S. West Coast next month, scientists have been monitoring the ocean waters. However, the level from the nuclear incident will be very low. “Current models predict that the radiation will be at extremely low levels that won’t harm humans or the environment,” Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said.
Buesseler noted the radiation would likely hit Seattle first before moving down the coast. By the time the material arrives, it will be extremely diluted. Scientists began monitoring in April 2012. During this time, the debris began arriving on the Oregon coast. Most of the tests have shown “minimum detectable activity.”
While the U.S. prepares for the radiation to drift in, Fukushima is still dealing with the aftermath. The rise in thyroid cancer in children is not only affecting the citizens physically, but mentally as well. Parents are dealing with mistrust and anxiety toward government officials. Professor of Molecular Pathology at Imperial College, London University Gerry Thomas mentioned that “the biggest effect will be psychological.”
By April Littleton