Fukushima's Children Aren't Dying: Three Years after a Nuclear Power Plant Accident, the Japanese Suffer a Thyroid Cancer Scare Manufactured by Major Media

By Terrell, Rebecca | The New American, October 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

Fukushima's Children Aren't Dying: Three Years after a Nuclear Power Plant Accident, the Japanese Suffer a Thyroid Cancer Scare Manufactured by Major Media


Terrell, Rebecca, The New American


The latest news from Japan's Fukushima Prefecture sounds horrifying. "Thyroid Cancer in Children Surge in Fukushima Since Nuclear Meltdown," shrieked a recent EcoWatch headline. "More than 100 youngsters in Japan diagnosed with thyroid cancer after Fukushima nuclear meltdown," cried the Mirror. The gist of the stories is that, of the more than 350,000 youngsters exposed three years ago to radiation from a tsunami-ravaged nuclear power plant, 104 of them now have thyroid cancer. Both stories quoted Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project, who called the statistics "disturbing" and claimed that under normal circumstances only seven children in a population that size would be expected to develop the disease.

A closer look at the situation paints quite a different picture. In fact, current research indicates thyroid cancer rates in Fukushima may be lower than in other prefectures farther from the nuclear plant.

In August, the prefectural government published findings from its Fukushima Health Management Survey (FHMS), which conducted screenings of area residents who were age 18 or under when the accident occurred. They focused on this age group because children's thyroid glands are particularly susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radioactive iodine ([sup.131]I), which escaped from the power plant during the accident. FHMS reported 57 definitive cases of thyroid cancer, one benign tumor, and 46 other suspicious cases. The latter involve tiny precancerous nodules which are very common. According to the Mayo Clinic, "One in three people have a thyroid nodule," and these are rarely cancerous.

Government officials deny a link between these 104 young people and the 2011 nuclear accident, reported Japan's daily newspaper The Asahi Shimbun, reinforcing an ongoing coverup accusation by the media. EcoWatch opined, "It helps their denial that experts disagree on whether these cases of thyroid cancer can be traced back to the meltdown," without naming any challengers or their rationales. Perhaps the experts' reasons are too compelling for anti-nuclear propaganda outlets such as EcoWatch.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal s "Fukushima Watch" blog, journalist Jun Hongo provides a more balanced explanation. He says FHMS researchers could discern no regional difference in cancer rates. "The percentage of those found to have thyroid cancer in the town of Okuma near the plant and the town of Inawashiro, located approximately 100 kilometers to the west, was 0.05% in each case," writes Hongo. If power plant radiation were the cause, higher exposure areas closer to the facility would evince higher cancer rates.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Of course, the more important issue is how current rates compare to those prior to 2011. There's the rub; no baseline exists, despite Mangano's claim of expecting seven cancers in the population. Since the natural disaster, the Japanese government has screened the children of Fukushima Prefecture at an unprecedented rate, so no control group exists to which they can compare results. Only one study comes close; Thyroid Ultrasound Findings in Children from Three Japanese Prefectures: Aomori, Yamanaski and Nagasaki, published last December in PLOS One, an international peer-reviewed online science publication. Researchers screened 4,365 children in these areas of north, central, and southern Japan respectively, using the same equipment, procedures, and methodology as the FHMS. Though their sample size was limited and therefore statistically weak, scientists found that "the frequency of thyroid cysts and nodules was relatively high in our study, when compared with the data presented in the Fukushima Health Management Survey (56.83% vs. 42.56% for cysts and 1.65% vs. 1.15% for nodules)." To clarify, the survey found that there were more cysts and nodules further away from Fukushima. Unlike FHMS, the three-prefecture study made no headlines outside of PLOS One, but that is understandable since drama-seeking sensationalists have no nuclear power plants to blame. …

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