Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fukushima and Thyroid Problems:

No Significant Difference 
from Other Regions of Japan

Ever since the accident at Fukushima, we have been bombarded by dire warnings of the adverse consequences to the public, both in Japan and elsewhere--the radiation was going to waft over the Pacific to the US, causing numerous deaths, the children of the Fukushima accident would suffer an increase in thyroid problems, etc.  One by one, these dire warnings have been exposed as falsehoods, ginned up by numbers that are either biased or that were misinterpreted or misunderstood.

In December 2011, there was a great piece by Michael Moyer, writing in a Scientific American blog, exposing the erroneous reasoning that was leading some anti-nuclear activists to claim that "the plume [from Fukushima] arrived on U.S. shores, spread everywhere, instantly, and started killing people immediately."

Today, an article appeared in The Mainichi in Japan showing that there is no significant gap between thyroid conditions in the Fukushima area and elsewhere in Japan.  Most of us who follow nuclear issues closely have long realized that, just like the allegations about health effects on US shores, the logic of the claims about thyroid problems was faulty--the supposed effects were occurring too soon, and the radiation exposures weren't sufficient to cause such effects anyway. 

The Mainichi article reports on a study comparing a population of young people in the Fukushima area with similar populations outside the Fukushima area and concluded that the percentages of small lumps and other anomalies detected in the surveyed population were "almost equal to or slightly lower in Fukushima."

The study was conducted by the Japanese Environment Ministry, which is the parent agency to the new Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority.  The Vice President of Fukushima Medical University, Shunichi Yamashita, noted that this survey demonstrates that "small cysts and lumps naturally exist in children when they are examined with the same precision level as in Fukushima."

One problem we sometimes face in modern times is that the precision with which we can measure things can exacerbate concerns.  This has been true of radiation measurements themselves--very small increases over background can be measured, resulting in a level of anxiety that is disproportionate to the dose.  We now see that it is also true of possible biological effects.  The health industry has been discovering this phenomena in recent years with respect to a number of diseases.  Now, it appears that we can add minor thyroid anomalies to that list. 

The positive findings do not eliminate the need for continued follow up in the population that was exposed during the course of the accident.  Although little or no effect may be expected, the circumstances mandate continued close monitoring.  Such efforts should take a lesson from this recent study and should be sure to conduct comparisons with the population outside the affected area.



  1. Good informative article, Gail, but your mentions just get my goat every which way! Here we have current studies and research that counters all the FUD and fearsome bilge sown by anti-nukers and a sympathetic media, but the public will hear SQUAT about reports as yours to allay their jitters and qualms. Whatever happened to corrective -- forget mere balanced -- reporting? Please tell me since you’ve run the circuit — Why are SO many nuclear advocates shy of outright calling anti-nuke greens health/safety Hypocrites — backed by factual charts of nuclear’s historic mortality/public damage scores compared other energy sources and industries for generations? Yea — make the audience gasp making that bold assertion; is being PC “polite” going to make them loathe nukes any less? It’s long due time to call a spade a spade and take the gloves off! Maybe it’ll jar their eyes open wider!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. James,

    I am actually heartened to see reports such as the one in Mainichi. That is a widely read Japanese newspaper. True, not widely read in the US, but in the US as well, I am seeing more and more balanced reporting. The most recent one was today (April 1, 2013) from Forbes:

    True, it's a continuing battle. Bad reports come out, and each must be addressed. The good news is that the are people like James Conca, writing for Forbes, as well as others who understand the complex issues involved and, more and more, are setting the record straight.


  3. Dr Gail,

    What are your thoughts on this matter, now that the cover up of a massive leak has been discovered? What (in your opinion) is the bottom line if reactor four collapses? I truly haven't seen anything other than doom and gloom predictions. It is unsettling to say the least.

    Regards, Dale

  4. Dale,

    Thanks for your comment, and sorry for my delay in responding. In this day and age, I know vacation is a poor excuse for being out of touch, but that is, in fact, the reason I couldn't answer you sooner.

    I think the dimensions of this discovery are still emerging. One good source of information is the American Nuclear Society's Nuclear Cafe blog. Here is a link to a recent ANS post on this subject:

    Whatever the findings about the magnitude and spread of the leak, the point I made in this blog is still valid. In order to make a true determination of the health impacts of any event, the incidence of any biological effect needs to be compared against the incidence in the absence of radiation (or any other contaminant).