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Thyroid cancer in Fukushima children increased 20-fold via Beyond Nuclear International

Latest results of the Fukushima thyroid screenings confirm worrying trend

By Dr. Alex Rosen

In 2011, people in Japan were exposed to radioactive fallout. Some still live in contaminated regions where they are exposed to elevated levels of radiation on a daily basis: radioactive hot-spots on the side of the road, in rice paddies or in sandboxes, contaminated mushrooms or algae, contaminated groundwater, and recontamination from forest fires or flooding. 

One of the most dreaded effects of radioactive exposure is the development of cancer through mutation of the DNA. Thyroid cancer in children is certainly not the most dangerous form of radiation-induced cancer, but it is probably the easiest to detect. For one thing, the latency periods before a cancer develops are relatively short, while at the same time, thyroid cancer in children is an extremely rare disease, so that even a slight absolute increase can be statistically detected. Accordingly, in 2011, there was great pressure on Japanese authorities to investigate the development of thyroid cancer in children and adolescents in Fukushima by conducting long-term screening examinations. 

For almost 10 years now, Fukushima Medical University has been regularly examining the thyroid glands of people who lived in Fukushima Prefecture at the time of the meltdowns and were under 18 years of age. Initially, this group consisted of about 368,000 individuals. Of these, 300,000 (about 82%) were successfully screened in the first few years. After the initial screening (2011-2014), follow-up examinations of these children took place every two years. The second examination has already been completed, the third examination is in its final stage, the fourth series of examinations has been running since 2018, and the fifth since 2020.


Incidentally, adolescents in the study cohort who turn 25 are excluded from the main study and transferred to a newly created cohort, the “Age 25 Milestone” group. In this group, 4 additional cases of thyroid cancer have been registered, with 7 conspicuous biopsies so far. The number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher: the participation rate in this study is just 8%. The creation of a new study cohort is generally seen as a measure by FMU to further reduce the number of diagnosed cancer cases.


It is interesting to compare these figures with the overall Japanese incidence rate. The official incidence rate of thyroid cancer in children under 25 in Japan is about 0.59 per 100,000 per year, which means that in the cohort of about 218,000 children, about 1.3 new thyroid cancer cases per year would be expected. Today, 10 years after the beginning of the nuclear disaster, just under 13 thyroid cancer cases would thus have been expected in the study population.

However, the actual number of thyroid cancer cases in Fukushima of 213 is higher by a factor of 16. If we consider only the 112 cases diagnosed after the initial screening and thus not suspected to be caused by a screening effect of any kind, the number of confirmed cases is 20 times higher than the number of expected thyroid cancer cases (5.5 new cases after the end of the initial 1st screening in 2014). 


In relative terms, the percentage of children screened in Fukushima has dropped from an initial 82% in the 1st screening to 71% in the 2nd screening, 65% in the 3rd screening, and currently to 62% in the ongoing 4th screening.

There seems to be a system behind this trend: Fukushima Medical University, which is in charge of the study, has been sending staff to schools in the prefecture for years to educate children about their “right not to participate” and the “right not to know”. On the study forms, there is now a prominent “opt-out” option for people who wish to be removed from the screening. FMU seems to encourage people to opt out of the study. The drop in participation can also be explained by the removal of people over 25 years from the main study. Are FMU staff concerned that the disturbing trend of increasing numbers of thyroid cancer cases will continue? Are they uncomfortable with data that contradicts the thesis, propagated since the beginning of the nuclear disaster, that the multiple meltdowns would not lead to additional cancers? 

In addition to thyroid cancer, other types of malignancies and other diseases triggered or adversely affected by ionized radiation are expected to increase. The FMU thyroid studies represent the only scientific study that can provide any relevant information at all about the health consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. And they are currently in danger of being undermined by the proponents of nuclear energy such as IAEA, which has entered a cooperation with FMU and by the Japanese government, which is trying to dispel any concerns about the meltdowns and nuclear energy as a whole. 


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