Fukushima's children are dying

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thirty-nine months after multiple explosions at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, thyroid cancer rates among nearby children have skyrocketed to more than forty times the normal rate.

More than 48% of about 375,000 young people ― nearly 200,000 kids ― tested by the Fukushima Medical University near the smoldering reactors now suffer from pre-cancerous thyroid abnormalities, primarily nodules and cysts. The rate is accelerating.

More than 120 childhood cancers have been found where just three would be expected, says Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.

The nuclear industry and its apologists continue to deny this public health tragedy. Some have actually said that “not one person” has been affected by Fukushima’s huge radiation releases, which for some isotopes exceed Hiroshima by a factor of nearly 30.

But the deadly epidemic at Fukushima is consistent with impacts suffered among children near the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island and the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl, as well as findings at other commercial reactors.

Nearby children are not the only casualties at Fukushima. Plant operator Masao Yoshida died at age 58 of esophogeal cancer. Masao heroically refused to abandon Fukushima during the worst of the crisis, probably saving millions of lives.

Workers at the site who are employed by independent contractors are often not being monitored for radiation exposure at all. Public anger is rising over government plans to force families ― many with small children ― back into the heavily contaminated region around the plant.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), however, has recently issued reports downplaying the Fukushima disaster’s human impacts. UNSCEAR is interlocked with the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, whose mandate is to promote nuclear power.

The IAEA has a long-term controlling gag order on UN findings about reactor health impacts. For decades UNSCEAR and the World Health Organization have run protective cover for the nuclear industry’s widespread health impacts. Fukushima has proven no exception.

In response, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the German International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War have issued a 10-point rebuttal, warning the public of the UN’s compromised credibility.

The disaster is “ongoing” say the groups, and must be monitored for decades. “Things could have turned for the worse” if winds had been blowing toward Tokyo rather than out to sea (and towards the US).

There is ongoing risk from irradiated produce, and among site workers whose doses and health impacts are not being monitored. Current dose estimates among workers and those who were downwind are unreliable, and special notice must be taken of radiation’s severe impacts on the human embryo.

UNSCEAR’s studies on background radiation are also “misleading”, say the groups, and there must be further study of genetic radiation effects as well as “non-cancer diseases”. The UN assertion that “no discernible radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members” is “cynical”, say the groups.

They add that things were made worse by the official refusal to distribute potassium iodide, which might have protected the public from thyroid impacts from massive releases of radioactive I-131.

Overall, the horrific news from Fukushima can only get worse. Radiation is still being carried into the Pacific. Management of spent fuel rods in pools suspended in the air and scattered around the site remains fraught with danger.

The pro-nuclear Shinzo Abe regime wants to reopen Japan’s remaining 48 reactors. It has pushed hard for families who fled the disaster to re-occupy irradiated homes and villages.

But the plague of death and disease now surfacing near Fukushima make it all too clear that the human cost of such decisions continues to escalate ― with our children suffering first and worst.

[Abridged from Common Dreams. Harvey Wasserman's Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.progressiveradionetwork.com and he edits www.nukefree.org.]

From GLW issue 1013