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Thyroid cancer impact on children and teens following Fukushima nuclear accident

More than 3,600 people died from causes such as illness and suicide linked to the aftermath of the tragedy.

Workers wearing protective suits spray adhesive synthetic resin over the ground at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
Workers wearing protective suits spray adhesive synthetic resin over the ground at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
Image: ABACA via PA Images

OVER 180 TEENAGERS and children have been found to have thyroid cancer or suspected cancer following the Fukushima nuclear accident, new research has found. 

A magnitude 9.0 quake – which struck under the Pacific Ocean on 11 March 2011 – and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage in Japan and took the lives of thousands of people.

The killer tsunami also swamped the emergency power supply at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, sending its reactors into meltdown as cooling systems failed in what was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

As of November, the total of dead or missing from the earthquake and the tsunami stood at 18,434 people, according to the National Police Agency.

In addition, more than 3,600 people – most of them from Fukushima - died from causes such as illness and suicide linked to the aftermath of the tragedy, government data shows.

More than 73,000 people still remain displaced, while no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the nuclear catastrophe.

Cancer concerns 

The accident at the nuclear power station in 2011 has also raised grave concerns about radioactive material released into the environment, including concerns over radiation-induced thyroid cancer. 

Ultrasound screenings for thyroid cancer were subsequently conducted at the Fukushima Health Management Survey. 

The observational study group included about 324,000 people aged 18 or younger at the time of the accident. It reports on two rounds of ultrasound screening during the first five years after the accident.  

Thyroid cancer or suspected cancer was identified in 187 individuals within five years – 116 people in the first round among nearly 300,000 people screened and 71 in the second round among 271,000 screened. 

The overwhelming common diagnosis in surgical cases was papillary thyroid cancer – 149 of 152 cases. 

Worker death

In May, Japan announced for the first time that a worker at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant has died after being exposed to radiation, Japanese media reported.

The man aged in his 50s developed lung cancer after he was involved in emergency work at the plant between March and December 2011, following the devastating tsunami.

The Japanese government has paid out compensation in four previous cases where workers developed cancer following the disaster, according to Jiji news agency. 

However, this was the first time the government has acknowledged a death related to radiation exposure at the plant, the Mainichi daily reported. 

The paper added the man had worked mainly at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and other atomic power stations nationwide between 1980 and 2015. 

Following the disaster, he was in charge of measuring radiation at the plant, and he is said to have worn a full-face mask and protective suit.

He developed lung cancer in February 2016.

With reporting by AFP. 

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