An astonishingly high occurrence of thyroid cancers in children have been reported years after the catastrophic Fukushima Nuclear Disaster struck Japan back in March 2011. According to recent findings, more than 160 children have been screened and conclusively diagnosed with thyroid cancer upon the conclusion of the study.
A panel of experts believe the count is exceedingly high when compared to actual projections for thyroid cancer patients based on national estimates. Despite the Environment Ministry’s claim that these cancers may not have necessarily been triggered by radiation, some experts have directly associated radiation with the mysterious onset of cancers in children with some degree of conviction. Moreover, the panel’s final draft presented last February appears to resonate with some of their concerns.
“Compared to the estimated prevalence rates based on the country’s statistics on cancer, which are shown in data including regional cancer registration, the level of thyroid cancer detection is several dozen times higher (in children of Fukushima Prefecture),”
Although increasingly evident from several scientific studies confirming elevated levels of thyroid cancer in local children, some experts have remained circumspect about confirming a definite link between the spike in cancer incidence and the nuclear plant accident.
While thousands of workers have been engaged in a clean-up campaign at the plant, the presence of active radioactive debris in the atmosphere hasn’t been altogether ruled out. Authorities overseeing the clean-up initiative appear to be visibly wary of potentially lethal radiation levels inside the reactor complex, which may still make it far too perilous for workers to successfully execute the task.
According to reports, an estimated 300 to 400 tons of contaminated water is generated every day as groundwater flows into the plant seemingly riddled with radioactive elements. To contain the contaminated water, TEPCO, the plant’s local operator, extracts it for storage in tanks, substituting tanks approximately every 48 to 72 hours.
Months following the disaster, it was reported that Fukushima authorities had initiated the process of examining of the thyroids of hundreds of thousands of children and for possible traces of radiation-triggered cancers. As a consequence, glaring abnormalities in the thyroids of children were observed followed by cancer detection in many of these cases.
According to Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minamisoma, a city located in Fukushima Prefecture with a population of more than 60,000 inhabitants, there is a clear absence of radiation-related awareness across communities particularly among young children.
“There has been no education regarding radiation. It’s difficult for many people to make the decision to return without knowing what these radiation levels mean and what is safe.”
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck north-eastern Japan and the ensuing tsunami left thousands dead and scores missing, devastating more than a 100,000 buildings and ravaging more than a million more. It also prompted the “meltdowns” at Fukushima, triggering the evacuation of 150,000 people from territories within a radius 20 kilometres from the nuclear plant as well as from some areas beyond it.
Last year, a study focused on children aged 18-years-old and under who had been exposed to toxic elements at the time of the incident reconfirmed the elevated thyroid cancer counts in these children concurring with World Health Organization (WHO) projections. Researchers had also previously suggested that elevated levels of radiation had been documented in North America since the disaster.
Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers that has increased in incidence rates over recent years. It appears to impact all age groups, including children. According to The American Cancer Society estimates, there are likely to be about 64,300 new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. in 2016 alone. Among these cases, nearly 49,350 will occur in women and about 14,950 will occur in men. About 1,980 people will likely lose their lives to thyroid cancer in 2016.
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