The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report today saying that within a 20-kilometre radius of the Fukushima nuclear plant, women who were exposed to radiation as infants are expected to have an increased rate of thyroid cancer from 0.75%—normal in the region—to 1.25%. According to the report, this is because radioactive iodine released in cases of nuclear accidents tends to gather in the thyroid glands. It also said that the risk of breast cancer among these women, and of leukaemia among men exposed as infants, may also likely rise, albeit to a lesser extent.
Maria Neira, WHO’s director of public health and environment, said that the primary focus of the report is in terms of specific cancer risks in relation to specific locations and demography. “A breakdown of data, based on age, gender and proximity to the nuclear power plant, does show a higher cancer risk for those located in the most contaminated parts. Outside these parts — even in locations inside Fukushima prefecture — no observable increases in cancer incidence are expected,” she said. She adds that the report highlights the necessity of long-term monitoring of those considered at high risk, coupled with regular medical check-ups.
However, some experts see the WHO findings as somewhat insignificant in the degree of the supposed increase in risk it reported. Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University, said of radiation doses in relation to the increase cancer risk, “The very small increase in cancers means that it’s even less than the risk of crossing the road.” Also, Gerry Thomas, a professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College London, shot back at WHO for hyping a “barely significant personal risk,” noting that people who are under stress have higher rates of suicide, heart ailments, and mental illness.
[via Frontier Post]